How To Run Anonymous Retrospectives

During a retrospective, team members may be hesitant to speak up about issues, whether it’s due to shyness or fear of retaliation. Additionally, team dynamics such as group-think or the influence of the highest paid person’s opinion (HIPPO) can also hinder open and honest feedback.

A great activity to encourage participation and negate biases is to conduct an anonymous retrospective. By hiding names and identities, feedback cannot be traced back to individuals, making it easier for people to speak out.

However, it’s important to consider both the advantages and disadvantages of anonymous retrospectives. In this article, we’ll explore both sides and provide a guide on how to run an anonymous retrospective using the Metro Retro tool.

Guidelines for running an Anonymous Retrospective

Before starting an anonymous retrospective, there are a few guidelines you should follow:

  1. Check in with the team: Make sure everyone is comfortable participating anonymously.
  2. Establish ground rules: Set clear expectations for respectful communication, such as no personal attacks.
  3. Follow the retrospective process: Use the same framework and guidelines as you would in a regular retrospective.
  4. Use sparingly: Avoid relying on anonymity for every retro, as it may negatively impact team dynamics.

Anonymous Retrospectives: In-Person

It can be difficult to make an in-person retrospective truly anonymous, but there are a couple of things you can do:

  • Anonymous survey: Gather information anonymously before the retro through a survey tool.
  • Sticky notes: Ask team members to write their feedback in uppercase letters and mix them into a pile. This way, it is harder to identify who wrote each note.
  • Present feedback back to the team: Share the feedback with the group without revealing who wrote each comment.

Or, use an online retrospective tool as suggested in the next section, but just do it from the office! Even if you are all in the same room, as long as you have enough space to keep each others screens private, you get the best of both worlds this way!

Anonymous Retrospectives: Remote Working

Remote retrospectives are often easier to run using online tools that ensure anonymity by hiding participants’ names and identities. For example, all retrospectives in Metro Retro can be run anonymously by using the Hide Identities feature available when in Meeting Mode.

When Hide Identities is enabled:

  • All names and avatars are hidden
  • Stickies are created anonymously
  • Votes are made anonymously

To use Hide Identities:

  1. Setup up your board using one of the 50+ retrospective templates.
  2. Share the board link with your team.
  3. Click the Start Meeting button at top of the screen, or use the mode switcher and enter Meeting Mode.
  4. Open the Host Menu via the button at the too of the screen and enable Hide Identities.

For a more in-depth guide, check out our tutorial video for Hide Identities below:

How to use Hide Identities in Metro Retro

Hide Identities: Under The Hood

When conducting anonymous retrospectives, we understand the concerns regarding tool security and anonymity. At Metro Retro, we prioritize anonymity, ensuring participants can speak freely without fear of their identity being revealed.

Under normal use, Metro Retro tracks who wrote each sticky note and what each person voted on. This information is sent back to the server and shared in real-time with the other users.

However, when Hide Identities is enabled, none of this data is sent back to the server. Anything written or voted on remains completely confidential. The application still keeps track of which sticky notes and votes you created, but it does this by storing the association data locally in the browser. This means you can still control the visibility of your notes (e.g. when Private Writing is enabled) without sharing the association data with the server and other clients.

Tips For Running An Anonymous Retrospective

Follow these tips to ensure your retrospective goes as planned and the team understands their responsibilities.

1. Start with a Check-In

Begin by conducting a check-in activity to gauge how open and comfortable team members feel about sharing their opinions. This will help you assess whether an anonymous retrospective would benefit the team. For example:

How comfortable do you feel expressing yourselves on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the least comfortable and 10 being the most comfortable?

2. Establish Clear Guidelines

The facilitator must ensure a safe and respectful environment. Set clear guidelines at the start. Emphasize that anonymous contributions should be respectful, constructive, and focused on the process rather than attacking individuals. For example:

Our goal is to critique the process, not the people.

If anonymous contributions used in an overly negative or unconstructive way, address it directly. You can say something like:

I’ve noticed some contributions are criticizing specific team members. Let’s focus on constructive feedback instead.

3. Use Anonymity Sparingly

Generally, it’s important to use anonymous contributions sparingly and with purpose. It’s a tool you reach for when you need it, not every sprint. If anonymity is misused or is not helping to improve team dynamics, it may be best to try something else. It will only harm your team’s collective feeling of psychological safety.

By following these tips, you can create an effective anonymous retrospective while fostering trust and psychological safety within the team. We suggest experimenting with anonymous retrospectives if you feel your team would benefit from it. As your team grows in maturity together, you should find yourself rely less and less on anonymous sessions.

Free Retrospective Templates

Claim your free team space in Metro Retro for unique retrospective ideas & interactive templates – you’ll never run out of retro ideas!

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