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A Thanksgiving Retro

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

What are we thankful for as a team?

When I first started working with American teams, I did an internet search looking for various holiday themed retrospectives. I found several for Christmas and New Years but nothing for Thanksgiving. And since the word “Thanks” is in the title, I feel like it is a perfect holiday to have a Retrospective theme.

As a reminder,

Why do we do Retrospectives?


Inspect and Adapt. We should be taking an honest look at how we work and find ways to improve to help us go forward on a regular basis.


We will try to find and agree on at least one actionable improvement to our way of working in order to:

  • Stop doing something (problems and bottlenecks)

  • Start doing something (process improvements)

  • Keep doing something (codify practice)

How do we do Retrospectives?

Retro Stages It is always helpful to think of running a retro in 5 stages. This method has helped me plan out an effective Retro for my teams especially when I am trying to create a new one.

  • Set the Stage

  • Gather Data

  • Generate Insights

  • Decide What to Do

  • Close the Retrospective

I also like to remind my teams of the prime directive when I start a retrospective. Especially if they are a new team or I have not worked with them previously.

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)

Now, where does the Thanksgiving Retrospective come into play?

In America, as children, we would do a project in school where we would assemble a paper cartoon turkey. We would color it, decorate it, then present it to our parents. They would honor us by sticking it to the refrigerator for the remainder of the season.

This retrospective has the team creating their own cartoon turkey.

The Body:

Ask your team to populate the body of the turkey with things that are weighing us down. What is keeping us from really flying? Things we are not thankful for in how we work. Stick all their post-it notes around the body.

What is weighing us down? What are we not thankful on the team?

Once they have populated the body, start to generate insights. Group items that are similar together. Do some 5 Why exercises. Identify some possible improvements.

After you have gathered the data and generated the insights for the things weighing the turkey down, move on to the fun stuff.

The Feathers:

Ask everyone to populate the feathers with what they are thankful for on the team? What are things that are holding us up? Things that can help us fly? These can be the people around them, parts of the process that they find useful, tools that help them do their job, etc?

What is lifting us up? What are we thankful for on the team?

Once they have all the feathers written, group these together. Identify ones that the team would like to make into habits. Energize them with what makes working on the team and at the company awesome! Then place those feathers all around the body of the turkey.

When you have gathered data for both the body and the feathers, it is time to decide what to do and prioritize the improvements. Make sure you remind them not to try to “take on more than they can chew”. Feel free to groan but there are a lot of Thanksgiving puns you can use here. And I am a huge fan of puns. Basically help them understand that one quality action plan for improvement for the next sprint is worth more than a lot of surface level, vague ideas.

Try to make your action item from Retro SMART SMART action items:

  • S – Specific,

  • M – Measurable,

  • A – Achievable,

  • R – Relevant,

  • T – Time-boxed

Once the team has determined their top priority for improvement and created their action plan for the next Sprint, close out the retro.

As an added measure from this Retrospective, I actually turned the improvements and action items into individual turkeys to post in the team area as visual reminders of their committed improvements. I wrote the problem statement in the body, then did a feather for each of the acceptance criteria.

Example of a visual Retro Reminder you can create.

This retrospective is a variation on the classic What Went Well and What didn’t go Well format. All it really does is focus the language around being thankful and the concepts of being weighed down vs. being lifted up. I hope it provides a fun, refreshing format that inspires the creative side of your brains.

Whether it is American Thanksgiving, Canadian Thanksgiving, or any other Giving Thanks celebration, I truly hope you take the day to think about what you are thankful for with those around you.



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