Kickstart Your Agile Retrospective with an Icebreaker

Kicking off agile retrospectives with energy can be a challenge. I like to start retros with an icebreaker, even with a team full of long-time collaborators, to ensure that things start on a high note. They’re not just fun and games. Rather, they’re a clever way to get everyone relaxed, talking, and ready to inspect the last sprint together, boost creativity, and focus on processing the learnings of the sprint together.

What Is An Icebreaker?

An icebreaker is a brief, low-stakes activity that gets people talking and comfortable with each other. Whether it’s a quick question or a quirky activity, it sets the stage for more open and lively interactions.

Making Everyone Feel at Home

You might be wondering why a team would spend time breaking the ice when, ostensibly they already know each other and have been working together for at least a sprint. Fair question!

  1. Icebreakers encourage participation in the retro. We’ve all squirmed through a quiet retro, right? It’s miserable! A well-chosen icebreaker invites everyone to speak up at the top of the retro. That makes it all the more likely they’ll be engaged as the conversation rolls on toward “inspect and adapt” themes.
  2. Icebreakers get everyone ready to listen. They get people relating to one another, sharing laughs, and feeling like a part of the crew. This warm-up act is super important because when folks feel heard, they’re more likely to speak up, share their true thoughts, and listen to others.
  3. Icebreakers help everyone zone in. Sprints end, and with that end come heaps of meetings. Folks may be jittery or lost in thoughts about what’s next or the puzzles they’re already solving. Kicking off a retro with a fun icebreaker? It’s like hitting the refresh button — this practice clears the head and focuses everyone on what we’re really here to talk about.

Whether a team is newly formed or has been working together for years, icebreakers give everyone a voice and make sure no one’s sitting out. It’s all about fostering that team spirit and ensuring everyone feels equally valued. This sets a fantastic stage for a meeting where the goal is to grow and improve together.

Getting It Right

There’s an art to choosing the perfect icebreaker. You want something that matches the mood and goals of your retrospective. It’s all about inclusion, so pick activities or prompts that everyone can join in on and enjoy. Keep it short—aim for 5 to 10 minutes max. This way, you spark energy without eating into the meaty part of your retro.

Here are some retro icebreaker themes and example prompts I’ve tried recently.

  • Seasonal favorites – What’s your summer jam?
  • Random this or that – Do you use an electric or acoustic toothbrush?
  • Shout-outs and gratitude – Recognize teammates who helped you out this sprint.
  • Vibe check – Share one or two emojis that capture how you’re feeling right now.

For each of these, I add a designated spot on the retro board or document (I like Miro or FigJam, but a Google Doc is great too!) where the team can fill in their responses. Get ready to be surprised by how the team interprets the prompt. I was shocked when the “summer jam” prompt didn’t elicit a playlist and instead resulted in a rich discussion of past and future summertime adventures.

Overall, adding icebreakers to your retrospectives is a no-brainer. They break down barriers, pump up the energy, and get everyone on the right wavelength. Crucially, they turn your retro into something everyone looks forward to. So, by the time you get to the nitty-gritty, your team is primed, connected, and ready to tackle anything together.


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