Team Culture Retrospective

When coaching agile teams we often say that while all the principles are important, one takes precedence over the others. Principle #12 of the Agile Manifesto1 tells us that “at regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly”, a principle which is realised by the Scrum “Sprint Retrospective”, the “Inspect and Adapt” ceremony that we see in SAFe, and the “Overall Retrospective” from LeSS.

These ceremonies are extremely powerful and, when combined with proper metrics and actions (in the form of experiments to improve team performance), can have huge benefits for team productivity and throughput.

Agile Coaches also understand and implement the science of motivating knowledge workers, as popularised by Peter Drucker2 and more recently (and possibly in a more digestible form) by Dan Pink3. We try to create environments where team members:

  • have responsibility for designing and developing their own solutions;
  • have capacity margin to work on the things that they feel are important;
  • have opportunities to learn new things and master existing skills; and
  • have a shared purpose or goal.

A simple technique that combines the goals of continuous improvement and our learnings from motivational science is the Team Culture Retrospective which we have adapted from Jurgen Appelo’s Moving Motivators4 exercise in Management 3.0.

Different teams have different mixes of people, with different motivations. The Team Culture Retrospective is an activity which aims to inspect team culture and drive targeted actions for improving culture in line with how the team is motivated.


Team culture retrospective preparation

It is a great tool to help you to understand how the different members of your team are motivated, which will allow you to create environments that will get the best from your team.

1. Each participant requires ten Sticky Dots in at least three different colours (3 high, 4 medium, 3 low). Participants also require a marker.

2. Print the following maps: Culture Map5 and Motivation Map6.

  • For a high fidelity approach print on A1 or A2 depending on team size
  • For a low fidelity approach recreate the key aspects of the maps on butcher’s paper and print handouts in A4.

3. Ensure that you have adequate wall space and seating to conduct the session.

4. Introduce the activity with The Prime Directive by Norm Kerth7.

Team culture retrospective process

Step One:  Moving Motivators

Walk through the ten “moving motivators” adapted from Jurgen Appelo’s Moving Motivators exercise (Management 3.0) with the team.

Motivation Map

Step Two:  Map motivators

Introduce the “Motivation Map” and ask participants to spend 10 minutes (time-boxed) on indicating which motivators are ‘most’ important to them using the sticky dots. Participants are only allowed one dot per Motivator and each point on the scale (Not Important -> Very Important) can only have dots of one colour so as to force rank. 

Step Three: Visualise motivators

Discuss the findings (time boxed to 5 minutes). How is the team motivated? You can use a mathematical formula here if you want (e.g. Very Important = 3, Not Important = 1) or just heat map it.

In the first example below, we found that the team’s primary motivators were Purpose, Curiosity, Relatedness, Freedom and Mastery.

In second example, we found that the team that had a very different profile, we found that Acceptance, Curiosity, Freedom, Purpose and Progress were important. Interestingly, in this team we found that Power and Status were quite important for some team members, which gave us some really interesting insights into team dynamics.

There is also another approach to take, as seen in the third example, the team uses a different approach for capturing motivators, as per the image below. I find this approach far more useful from the perspective of both capturing and retaining the motivations of individuals, but it would require a little bit of work to turn the outputs into a heat map.

Step Four:  Map motivators

Introduce the “Culture Map” and choose a facilitator. Starting with the team’s most important motivator and working in descending order of importance, do 15 minutes of time-boxed team Culture Mapping.

For each scale on the Culture Map, ask the team to collaboratively notate (as shown below) to determine the current state of team culture. There will likely be some contention in this exercise, and where there are discrepancies, invite people to discuss their differences.

Step Five:  Team motivator action plan

Workshop actions to improve the team’s culture based on the areas where there is the greatest discrepancy between motivation and current state. It is probably worthwhile considering Root Cause Analysis here as well.

In the example pictured, Curiosity and Freedom were important motivators for the team, but a large proportion of the team felt like the environment wasn’t particularly motivating in those aspects. We took actions to consider pairing on unfamiliar tasks and spending more time focussing on problem definition as opposed to task definition.

Culture Map Example

Step Six:  Visualise the team motivator trends

Visualise the results and look for continuous improvement. We’ve used this technique with several teams now with a variety of great outcomes. We recommend including senior managers in the session to give them an understanding of how best to motivate their teams. It’s an extremely powerful coaching tool when you are trying to convince management of the benefits of capacity margin, hack days, pairing, emergent design and self-organisation.

Fellow contributors: Eva Offermans, Craig Drayton, Ryan McKergow



  1. Agile Manifesto
  2. Management Challenges for the 21st Century: Peter Drucker
  3. Drive: Dan Pink
  4. Moving Motivators: Jurgen Appelo
  5. Culture Map
  6. Motivation Map
  7. The Prime Directive: Norm Kerth



  • Katie

    Hi, thanks for this article, really enjoyed it and we are going to give one a go in our team.

    A couple of questions – do you usually run the two sections “moving motivators” and “culture map” in the same session ?
    What would be the ideal length of time for this session, 2hrs?

    And a more detailed question… the red lines on the board in the image under step 4 – are they the facilitators view of the “average” view of team culture on each motivator? As the photo shows the individual responses to the question appear to vary considerably.

    • Andrew Blain

      Hi Shalini, one hour should be plenty of time to run the first exercise. This will give you a great feel for how the team is motivated and can be used as a discussion point.

  • Andrew Blain

    Hi Katie,

    Thanks for the kind note and would love to hear how you go – perhaps when you’ve finished get in touch and we can have a chat about the outcomes.

    Re your questions:

    1. Yep, it’s the easiest way for people to maintain context. You can timebox the two exercises to about 15 mins each depending on the size of the group. You can also split the group and do the two exercises independently if the group is large, the analysis requires both but they don’t have to be done sequentially.

    2. Ninety minutes should be enough: 10-15 minutes to intro, 15-20 minutes for the moving motivators, 10-15 minutes to discuss, 15-20 minutes for the culture map, 10-15 minutes to discuss, then use the rest of the workshop to build some actions. I have previously tried to run the exercise in a sixty minute session, that was a bit squeezed.

    3. Yep – nailed it. Think of the responses like a histogram of sorts, your choice as to whether you go for the median or the mean. It doesn’t have to be super accurate, you should find two or three stand out areas to discuss. Ideally you’ll find that the things that are really important to the team are not being provided, but it’s not always going to work out like that :).



    • Katie

      Thanks Andrew. Will let you know how we go!

      • Shalini

        Hi Katie and Andrew,

        I am planning to use the above exercise for one of our retros this week. I am curious as to how this exercise worked for you and your team.

        I am planning to run just the first exercise and determine the 3 most important motivators that my team needs to work on.

        My idea is similar to above:
        (1) get the chart in and get everyone in the team to put colour dots on individual motivator on where they stand currently in regards to the team.
        (2) Then i am planning on giving 3=very important, 2=important, 1=least important. The one that gets the least count will the main focus of the session on which we will work on finding the root cause and a solution as a group. followed by the second and the third.

        Since i have only 1 hour allocated to run retro it might be comfortable to run only 1 of the above approach.

        Please do let me know if you have any suggestions.

  • German Gold

    Hi Andrew,
    I did the retro this week with my team in Montreal. It was a great experience and everyone liked it. The team (and myself) were surprise about the results.

    Suggestion :
    For the Culture Map, even if I printed in a big size (6 letter size papers glued together), it felt too crowd when everybody was trying to read, understand and mark on the paper. I guess, next time I would, either print an even bigger image or I`ll distribute un individual culture map sheet so every person can to read the sentences where they are, and then let the team members aproach to the wall so they can make the ink mark.

    Thank you for this great retro!

    German Gold
    Coach Agile

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *