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Recently, Jack, a new Scrum Master, approached me with a problem. His team’s retrospectives were not going well, and he was unsure how to fix them.

“What seems to be the issue, Jack?” I asked.

“Well, no one speaks up during the retrospective, and even if they do, they don’t participate willingly. I feel like people may feel unsafe voicing their opinions,” he replied.

I nodded understandingly. This was a common problem in retrospective meetings. “It sounds like there may be some underlying issues that need to be addressed before you can fix the retrospective process itself. Let’s take a closer look.”


Working Towards a Better Scrum Values Retrospective

I started by asking Jack about the team’s overall dynamics. Were there any conflicts or tensions that needed to be resolved? Was there a lack of trust among team members? These were important factors that could contribute to the team’s unwillingness to speak up during retrospectives.

After discussing these issues with Jack, we brainstormed a few solutions that he could implement to make his team members feel more comfortable during retrospectives. Here are some of the things we came up with:

Set Clear Expectations

Make sure everyone knows what the goal of the retrospective is and what they are expected to contribute. Explain the process and provide guidelines for how to give feedback.

Create a Safe Environment

Ensure that the team members feel comfortable and safe sharing their opinions. Encourage open and honest communication by reminding everyone that the retrospective is a no-blame zone. Reinforce that everyone’s opinions and feedback are important, and encourage the team to actively listen to each other.

Ask the Right Questions

Ask open-ended questions that encourage discussion and participation. Don’t just focus on the negatives; also ask the team what they did well and what they could improve on.

Follow Up on Action Items

Make sure that action items from the retrospective are followed up on and addressed in a timely manner. This helps build trust and accountability among team members.

Rotate the Facilitator’s Role

Consider rotating the role of the retrospective facilitator among team members. This gives everyone an opportunity to lead and take ownership of the retrospective process.

After discussing these solutions, Jack felt much more confident about addressing his team’s retrospective issues. He thanked me for the advice and said he would start implementing these changes right away.

A few weeks later, Jack reached out to me to let me know that his team’s retrospectives had greatly improved. The team members were more engaged and willing to participate, and they were starting to see real improvements in their processes.


Scrum Values Retrospective: Why They Matter

The Retrospective is a critical meeting in the Scrum Framework. As a reminder: The Retrospective in Scrum is a regular event that takes place at the end of each Sprint, which is a time-boxed iteration of work in the Scrum framework. The purpose of the Retrospective is to give the Scrum team an opportunity to reflect on their work and identify ways to improve their process.

During the Retrospective, the team discusses what went well during the Sprint, what didn’t go well, and what can be done differently in the next sprint. The goal is to continuously improve the team’s performance, collaboration, and delivery. The team also discusses any obstacles that need to be removed to improve their effectiveness and identifies actions to take in the next sprint.

Although the Retrospective is a critical part of Scrum, only a psychologically safe and positive environment can allow the team to reflect, learn, and grow. Useful Retrospectives help the team identify areas for improvement, plan for future action, and create a culture of continuous improvement. Teams that go through the motions seldom get the benefits they are looking for.


What is Psychological Safety?

Psychological safety is the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up, asking questions, or making mistakes. It is a shared belief that the team environment is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. Creating this means team members can express their opinions, thoughts, and feelings without fear of negative consequences.

This is important because it creates a positive work environment where people feel comfortable, respected, and valued. When team members feel psychologically safe, they are more likely to be engaged, motivated, and productive. They are also more likely to share their ideas, offer constructive feedback, and collaborate effectively with others.

Psychological safety is also important for organisational performance and innovation. Teams that have a high degree of psychological safety are more likely to produce higher-quality work, make better decisions, and solve problems more effectively.

They are also more likely to take risks, try new approaches, and experiment with innovative ideas. So, you can see how essential it is to continuously create and maintain a psychologically safe work environment to build a positive, productive, and high-performing team.


What is the Retrospective Prime Directive?

The Retrospective Prime Directive is a principle that encourages team members to focus on the present and future and use experience to learn, rather than dwelling on past mistakes or events, during a retrospective meeting.

The idea is to create a safe and positive environment where team members can reflect on their work, identify areas for improvement, and plan for future action. This helps to foster a continuous improvement culture, rather than one that blames individuals for past mistakes.

Retrospective Prime Directive: “Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”

-Norm Kerth, Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Review

The Retrospective Prime Directive contributes to psychological safety by establishing a positive and non-punitive environment during retrospective meetings. When team members feel safe to speak openly and honestly about their experiences and perspectives, they are more likely to share information, offer constructive feedback, and collaborate effectively to identify and address issues. This helps to create a culture of trust, respect, and continuous improvement.


The Retrospective Prime Directive


By focusing on the present and future rather than dwelling on past mistakes, the purpose of a retrospective is to help prevent blame and defensiveness and encourage team members to take responsibility for their actions and work together to find solutions. This creates a supportive and collaborative atmosphere, which is essential for building psychological safety and fostering a high-performing team.


When Retrospectives Go Wrong

There are several anti-patterns that can occur during a scrum values retrospective that undermine their effectiveness. Some of the common ones are:

  1. Blame game: When team members focus on attacking each other for problems, the retrospective becomes a negative and unproductive experience.
  2. No action taken: When retrospectives only focus on complaining and discussing problems without taking any action to resolve them, they become ineffective.
  3. Lack of participation: When only a few team members participate in the retrospective, the team misses out on the diverse perspectives and ideas needed for improvement.
  4. Not staying focused: When the retrospective deviates from its purpose and becomes sidetracked with irrelevant or unrelated topics, the team loses the opportunity to identify and address important issues.
  5. The same problems are discussed repeatedly: When the same issues are discussed in multiple retrospectives without any resolution, it leads to frustration and a lack of trust in the process.

It is important to recognize and avoid these antipatterns in order to make the most of the retrospective and continuously improve the team’s work.

The Blame-Oriented Retrospective

In a blame-oriented Retrospective, team members may become defensive and unwilling to participate openly, leading to a lack of meaningful discussion and collaboration. This can create a toxic and unsupportive environment, and make it difficult for the team to identify and resolve problems. 

This toxic approach can prevent the team from learning and improving, as the focus is on attacking individuals rather than identifying root causes and solutions. This leads to a culture of fear, where team members are hesitant to speak up or uncover mistakes, or try new things for fear of retribution, further reducing the effectiveness of the retrospective.

From your own perspective, if you felt that a Retrospective would result in a witch hunt, how open would you be to admitting mistakes or challenges? Would you want to point out your colleagues’ mistakes if you thought they would be punished? What would you learn in such a punitive, toxic environment?




  1. a campaign directed against a person or group holding views considered unorthodox or a threat to society.“he claimed he was the victim of a media witch-hunt”

Overall, the blame game derails the outcomes of the Retrospective by creating a negative and unproductive atmosphere, hindering open communication, and preventing the team from learning and improving. he blame game creates an atmosphere where team members are protecting themselves through defensive and or aggressive behaviours.


The Scrum Values vs. The Blame Game

The Scrum values are a set of five principles that guide the behaviour of individuals and teams in the Scrum framework:

  1. Commitment: Team members are committed to achieving the common goal and to supporting each other in the pursuit of that goal.
  2. Courage: Team members have the courage to take risks, face challenges, and pursue opportunities for growth and improvement.
  3. Focus: Team members stay focused on delivering valuable products and on improving their processes.
  4. Openness: Team members are transparent and open in their communication and decision-making.
  5. Respect: Team members show respect for each other, for their skills and contributions, and for their diversity.


The Retrospective Prime Directive


These values help create trust within the team by promoting a positive and supportive work environment where team members feel comfortable expressing themselves and working together towards a common goal.

Scrum Values Explained

Scrum values can be far more valuable than some people realise. For example, openness promotes trust by encouraging open and honest communication. When team members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and experiences, they are more likely to collaborate and work together effectively.

Respect helps create trust by recognizing the value of each team member and their contributions. When team members feel valued and respected, they are more likely to trust their colleagues and work together towards a common goal.

Courage helps create trust by encouraging team members to take risks and try new approaches, without fear of failure. When team members are encouraged to take risks and learn from their experiences, they are more likely to trust each other and work together effectively.

Together, the Scrum values create trust by promoting open communication, respecting each other’s skills and contributions, and encouraging risk-taking and continuous improvement.

How the Blame Game Goes Against Scrum Values

The “blame game” doesn’t work and goes against the Scrum values of focus, openness, respect, commitment and courage. The Scrum Framework values the importance of creating a positive and supportive work environment where team members feel free to express themselves and share their opinions. The blame game undermines this environment by fostering an atmosphere of fear, mistrust, and defensiveness.

In a psychologically unsafe space, team members may be hesitant to speak up and share their thoughts, as they are afraid of being criticised or blamed for problems. This goes against the value of openness, as it prevents the team from having open and honest discussions about their work.

Additionally, the blame game can damage relationships between team members and create a culture of disrespect. When team members focus on blaming each other, they are not showing respect for their colleagues or their contributions to the team.

Finally, the blame game can also hinder the value of courage. Team members may be afraid to take risks or try new approaches for fear of being criticised or blamed for failure. This can stifle innovation and prevent the team from continuously improving.

The blame game goes against the Scrum values by creating a negative and unproductive work environment, hindering open communication, damaging relationships, and reducing the team’s courage and ability to innovate.


Back to the Retrospective Prime Directive

The Retrospective Prime Directive helps to overcome the “blame game” by creating a safe and positive environment for the team to reflect on their work. The prime directive states that “regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”

By focusing on this positive and supportive attitude, the prime directive helps to shift the focus away from blame and towards continuous improvement. Team members are more likely to participate openly and honestly in the retrospective, as they feel that their actions and decisions will not be criticised or judged.

The Prime Directive helps to create a culture of trust and respect within the team. When team members understand that their colleagues are not being blamed for problems, they are more likely to collaborate and work together to find solutions.

The Retrospective Prime Directive helps to overcome the “blame game” by creating a safe and positive environment for reflection, fostering open communication, and building trust and respect within the team. This enables the team to identify problems, learn from their experiences, and continuously improve their work.


The Scrum Master and the Prime Directive

To create an environment of trust and support, a Scrum Master can use the Retrospective Prime Directive to help the Scrum team in several ways:

Set the Tone

By introducing and emphasising the Prime Directive at the start of each retrospective, the Scrum Master can set the tone for a positive and supportive environment. The Scrum Master can invite the team to think through how the Prime Directive brings the Scrum Values to life and how living these values can affect the Team

Conversely, the Scrum Master can ask the teams what the effect of a blame-filled approach to the Retrospective would impact the team as a whole and team members personally. In addition, the Scrum Master could invite the team to align all their retrospectives to the spirit of the Prime Directive – what would happen if they did or didn’t do that?

Encourage Open Communication

The best Scrum Masters encourage team members to share their thoughts and experiences without fear of being criticised or judged, by reminding them of the prime directive. The Scrum Master can facilitate discussions that focus on continuous improvement and problem-solving, rather than blame, by guiding the team towards solutions rather than blaming individuals.

Promote a Culture of Trust

The Scrum Master can promote a culture of trust and respect within the team by consistently modelling the Scrum values and ensuring that all team members are aware of their importance.

If the Scrum Master notices any negative behaviours, such as the “blame game,” during the retrospective, they can intervene and redirect the conversation back to the prime directive and the Scrum Values of focus, openness, commitment, courage, and respect.

A savvy Scrum Master can use the Retrospective Prime Directive as a tool to help the Scrum team have productive and positive retrospectives, foster open communication, promote a culture of trust, and continuously improve their work!

By the way if you’re wondering why Captain Kirk is the main image for this post check out: The Prime Directive –  Live long and prosper!

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