One of the challenges we face as facilitiators is keeping everyone engaged in the conversation. This is true of sprint planning, story pointing and of course in retrospectives. There can be a lot of underlying reasons that a team stays quiet- here's our top five ways to get them talking again.

1. Ask an Opening Question
Studies show that you are more likely to get people to engage if you can get them talking in the first five minutes of a meeting. This doesn’t have to be anything profound, in fact its best to have some fun with it! Do a quick round robin to kick off your retro and ask something silly like “If this sprint were a car, what type of car would it be and why?” or “If this iteration had a theme song, what would it be and why?” Give everyone a chance to answer before you dive into the nitty gritty of discussing your retrospective data.

2. Establish Trust and Safety
It takes time to establish safety within a team. You can do a quick safety check by adding a column to your board and asking everyone to anonymously answer the question “Are you comfortable expressing your opinions in this retro?” Participants can answer with a 1-5 rank (like the one Andy Cleff mentions here) or even a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Also consider reviewing the Prime Directive at the start of each retro to set the tone for a positive, open conversation free of judgement or blame.

3. Reminder to Vote and Comment
We love continuous retrospectives but let’s face it- we live busy lives and it’s easy to forget. When you are closing a retro, create a new board so your team can add cards right when they think of them. Send a quick reminder to your teammates to go add comments or vote before your retrospective begins. Even the busiest person can spare a moment to click the + sign. Leverage your participation rate (found on the retro dashboard) as a data point to encourage the team to get to 100% every time!

4. Ask Open Ended Questions
As a facilitator, block off 30 minutes prior to the start of each retro to review the cards, making notes of patterns or trends. Look for what is not explicitly being said and consider the team’s perspectives. You can build trust by asking open ended questions rather than “Who wrote this?” This will encourage more discussion than just re-reading what is written on the cards. Ask the team about how comments make them feel, or if they can share observations or events that led them to similar conclusions.

5. Let Silence Do the Heavy Lifting
Long silences over a conference call can be well...awkward! However a pause after you ask a question gives your participants a chance to process what you are asking of them. It may feel like silence is a form of nonparticipation, signaling lack of interest but the more emotionally charged the conversation, the more time is needed to form a response. Check out Susan Scott’s book Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Timethat is filled with a multitude of tips and strategies to engage in more meaningful conversations.