In my organization, we decided to hold retrospectives. To be honest, this was a move facilitated by me, because I felt that we should improve our teamwork after a rise from two members in one office to four members in adjacent offices.

We have one person for support and everything non-code related, two designated programmers of which I am one and our sponsor who also codes and created the framework.

Can we hold a retrospective with one team member/sponsor being the moderator at all, and how would that work?

I ask, because I tried to moderate and found it increasingly difficult to position myself outside the team for these reasons:

  • I want to participate actively.
  • My personal experience as a team member would be helpful.
  • As a team member I am not external and always involved, while trying the opposite feels artificial.

Any ideas?

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    Have you considered simply not having a moderator? Commented Sep 18, 2012 at 19:24
  • yes, but I haven't found any infos on how that would work. We could say "just meet regularly and talk". That might in fact work but I don't know.
    – tzeH
    Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 13:45
  • I would try that before anything else. If your team is mature enough, it shouldn't be a problem. Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 15:34

4 Answers 4



The best thing would be of course to have a separate moderator.

Now, considering that if you could do this, you would have already, here is a proposition, which should be considered in all such cases: cycle.


That is: when an important role needs to be regularly taken by some group member, but that assuming this role prevents him/her to assume his usual status of group member and causes frustration or loss of feedback, try to have group members alternately take the responsibility.


Have your team members take the moderator responsibility one after the other on each retrospective. This will directly solve your first two points, which are your own frustration and the loss of your feedback for the team.

This will also help alleviate the burden of trying to be neutral, as the mediator knows he will be able to express his/her own feelinds on the next retrospective, and the other members will be more likely to help him/her as they will have felt the pain themselves.

Sociological vision

This will have the added benefit of making attendants more responsible. You will indeed be building an implicitly normative system of reciprocity where attendants will try to be easily “manageable” by the moderator, as they know they will have to assume the role next time, and will want others to behave in a gentle way.


Pure linear alternation, depending on your team, may or may not be sustainable. Such cycling can be exchanged for volunteering (if enough different people do volunteer so that there is no feeling of power taking by a subset), or consensual election. The decision process should be left to the team to choose.

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    I really like your suggestions here! very complete and well thought out. Commented Sep 18, 2012 at 23:47
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    Hi @JulianHigginson, welcome to PMSE! :) Remember, the best way to reward a great answer is with an upvote! Also, don't forget to upvote great questions as well as this helps to highlight them.
    – jmort253
    Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 0:54
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    Thanks @jmort253 - Already upvoted MattiSG when I commented. But I suppose the OP deserves one too. I only noticed this site a while ago, I'm normally just on the main SE site. :-) Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 2:13

Not just in retrospectives, but in most workshops and meetings, it is very wise to have a facilitator that is separate from the team. This role is for meeting control and does not participate in the meeting content. If you commingle roles, you are degrading the effectiveness of the facilator. So I would answer your question with a no. Bring in a separate facilitator.


My answer is exactly the same as for a previous question:

The Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen will answer all your questions about retrospectives including facilitation (as far as I remember a hole chapter talks about it, like setting the stage, preparation etc.)

  • 1
    Thanks Zsolt, I ordered it already but delivery will take weeks. Facilitation wasn't my core question: My question was about resolving the conflict of being moderator and participant at the same time.
    – tzeH
    Commented Sep 18, 2012 at 10:53
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    Based on my experience, you cannot be a moderator and a participant at the same time at a retrospective meeting. The moderation/facilitation needs focus and objectivity, plus you have to each the participants how to do it right. Later on when you and your team have the practice you can run the meeting and participate.
    – Zsolt
    Commented Sep 18, 2012 at 10:57
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    Is it correct to say then, that moderating involves teaching and steering the participants while running the retrospective doesn't? Or how would you describe the difference between the two?
    – tzeH
    Commented Sep 18, 2012 at 11:36
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    for me moderation is a too strong word for a retrospective. During the first couple of events the person who runs the meeting shall help the participants learn how to do it right. After this learning period is over, he or she shall facilitate the meeting by making sure that it is going to the right direction.
    – Zsolt
    Commented Sep 18, 2012 at 11:40
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    Hi @Zsolt, you should consider summarizing the stuff from your comments to the body of the answer so you won't just be saying "here, read this book". If you're posting just a link to a book, it's probably best as a helpful comment to the question. You can flag this as "not an answer" if you want a moderator to convert this thread to a comment on the question; otherwise, be sure the body of your post answers the question here on this site. See this part of the FAQ for more guidance. Hope this helps!
    – jmort253
    Commented Sep 18, 2012 at 14:40

You can also look at this position: The Retrospective Handbook This book can be helpful for people that begining doing retrospectives. You will find there for example description of such tools like checklists (Do you have enought markers in the same color, to assure the anonymity for participants? etc.) There is also a part about the prime derective and its importance.

  • Hi Marcin, can you perhaps elaborate and summarize the helpful points from this book as it applies to the question? Answering a question with just a link is really not what we're looking for in answers. Please consider improving, or leave this as a comment to the question. Please see this section of the FAQ for guidance. Good luck!
    – jmort253
    Commented Sep 18, 2012 at 14:44

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