Our Favorite End-of-Year Retro Format

A couple weeks ago, we recommended using the end of the year and start of the next as a time to zoom out and do a larger retrospective. This week, we’re going to share our favorite end-of-the-year retro format.

We almost always structure retrospectives using the ORID framework from The Art of Focused Conversation. It’s our go-to structure for any group decision-making meeting.

ORID is an acronym for a sequence of four kinds of questions to discuss in a particular order:

    O is for Observation. Collect objective data about what happened.

    R is for Reflection. Collect data about individuals’ internal state relative to the data.

    I is for Interpretation. Discuss what patterns are in the data and what it might mean.

    D is for Decision. Decide together what to do based on your shared interpretation.

We love ORID as a basic retrospective structure. It can go in a lot of different directions but it always gets the group focusing on shared data before starting to talk about proposals for change.

Here’s how we do an ORID annual retro…


Build a timeline of everything of note that happened over the past year. If we’re in-person, we’ll do this on a big whiteboard. Remote, we do it in Miro.

Things you might capture on the timeline include:

  • Events
  • Product releases
  • When people joined or left the team
  • Sales numbers
  • Other metrics that change over time

Keep it open ended on the first pass, just, “What are some things that happened this year?” Then, follow up with more specific prompts. And finally, ask “What’s missing?”


Give participants 3 red dots and 3 blue dots. Ask them to place the red dots along the top of timeline at the points where they felt most frustrated or demotivated. Ask them to place the blue dots along the top of the timeline where they felt most engaged or motivated. Have people do it silently, without explanation or debate. This is just personal data, not something you need to agree about.


Now it’s time to make sense of the data. Ask questions to get at patterns and meaning in the data. The specific questions depend on your context. With a product team, we might ask:

  • What seems to contribute to us being most engaged? Most effective?
  • What seems to contribute to frustration or issues?
  • What are early indicators of good or bad outcomes?
  • What do we want to see more of next year? Less of?

Encourage people to support their interpretations with data from the board. And when people refer to data that’s not on the board, encourage them to add that data so it becomes part of the shared reference.


Once there seems to be some alignment on the interpretations, move towards a decision. Ask questions like, “What’s something we could try next year to amplify what worked and dampen what didn’t?”

Collect proposals and vote on them. Then, craft the winning proposals into good experiments and build them into your plan for next year.

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