Navigating team growth: The Hot Air Balloon Retrospective explained

Revitalize your team meetings. Explore our essential guide to Hot Air Balloon Retrospectives for impactful, results-driven discussions.

Craft Author: Tom Norman
Tom Norman
Illustration representing a Hot Air Balloon Retrospective Meeting. Includes people talking and hot air balloons.


Have you ever left a retrospective meeting feeling like nothing will really change? If so, the Hot Air Balloon Retrospective could be the breath of fresh air your team needs. It's a dynamic framework that helps you identify obstacles and opportunities, encouraging actionable insights. By running these retrospectives effectively, you set the stage for better team collaboration, more efficient workflows, and ultimately, a more successful project.

What is a Hot Air Balloon Retrospective?

A Hot Air Balloon Retrospective is a visualization tool used to assess the state of a project and team performance. In this metaphor, various components of a hot air balloon and its environment represent distinct aspects of a project. Here are the five essential parts:

1. The balloon

Representing the project or the specific phase in question, the balloon is the central element. It encapsulates the team's collective efforts, including tasks completed and goals met. The balloon's position—whether ascending, stationary, or descending—gives an immediate read on the general health of the project.

2. Sunny skies

Sunny skies symbolize the ideal conditions or opportunities that have positively affected the project. This could include a receptive market, successful feature releases, or periods of high team morale. Sunny skies are what teams strive for, as they create the perfect environment for project success.

3. Hot air

The hot air in the balloon signifies the internal motivating factors that are driving the project forward. This could be a strong team dynamic, effective leadership, or the successful implementation of new strategies. Like the fire that propels the balloon upwards, these positive internal influences help lift the project toward its goals.

4. Storm clouds

These represent external challenges or setbacks that have negatively impacted the project. Storm clouds could be shifts in market demand, unexpected competition, or even global events that affect company operations. Being aware of these challenges is crucial for effective navigation and timely course correction.

5. Sandbags

These are the internal issues or "anchors" holding the project back. Sandbags could be anything from communication breakdowns and resource limitations to problematic processes. Identifying these issues is vital for any course adjustments and ensuring that the project rises rather than sinks.

Understanding these five components gives teams a well-rounded framework to discuss both the triumphs and challenges they face, enabling more effective future planning.

Hot air balloon retrospective meeting templates

How to prepare for a Hot Air Balloon Retrospective meeting

1. Set the agenda

Before you even schedule the meeting, it's crucial to decide what you aim to accomplish. Having a clear agenda will provide a roadmap for the discussion and make sure that everyone is aligned from the get-go. Include key questions you want to answer, like "What went well?" and "What could be improved?"

2. Invite the right people

This retrospective isn't a one-person show; it's a team effort. Make sure you invite everyone who was actively involved in the project phase you're reviewing. Each team member brings a unique perspective that can contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of what's working and what needs improvement.

3. Gather data

It's easy to rely on gut feelings, but data offers an objective viewpoint that can facilitate more effective discussions. Collect relevant metrics that can provide insights into team performance, such as completion rates for tasks or timelines of project milestones. Also, consider gathering qualitative data like team member feedback through surveys or one-on-one conversations prior to the meeting.

4. Share template in advance

Give your team a heads-up by sharing the retrospective template ahead of the meeting. This allows team members to familiarize themselves with the format and come prepared with points for discussion. The more prepared each individual is, the more efficient and effective the retrospective will be.

How to run a Hot Air Balloon Retrospective meeting

1. Open the meeting

Start by restating the agenda and the purpose of the meeting to ensure that everyone is on the same page. This step helps refocus the team's attention and sets the stage for a more engaged and productive discussion. An opening can be as simple as, "Today, we're here to talk about our recent project phase and identify what helped us succeed and what obstacles we need to address."

2. Present relevant data

This is where you share the data you’ve gathered to set a factual baseline for the discussion. Share metrics on team performance and any other relevant information that can help clarify the current state of the project. Avoid making this part too lengthy; the goal is to inform, not overwhelm. Keep visual aids like charts or graphs straightforward to aid comprehension.

3. Discuss using the Hot Air Balloon framework

Using each area of the Hot Air Balloon Retrospective as a talking point, encourage the team to discuss:

  • Sunny skies: The conditions that positively impacted the project
  • Hot air: Internal motivating factors
  • Storm clouds: External challenges that have impacted the project
  • Sandbags: Internal issues or “anchors” holding the project back.

This step is crucial because it encourages team members to speak openly about challenges and successes, offering a balanced perspective on project performance. Encourage everyone to contribute and ensure that the discussion stays constructive. Prioritize creating an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts without fear of judgement.

4. Brainstorm action items

After identifying areas for improvement and success, it's time to brainstorm next steps. What concrete actions can the team take to harness the 'sunny skies' and 'hot air,' while mitigating the 'storm clouds' and ditching the 'sandbags?' Make sure each action item is clearly defined and assigned to a specific team member.

5. Close the meeting

Before everyone leaves, summarize the key takeaways and action items. Restate the importance of what was discussed and how it will contribute to future project success. A strong closing drives home the value of the retrospective and provides clear next steps, keeping the team aligned and motivated for what comes next.


The Hot Air Balloon Retrospective is more than just another meeting; it's a transformative process that empowers teams to reflect, identify opportunities, and take action. It's about recognizing where you are, acknowledging the forces that got you there, and planning for a more successful ascent. So the next time you find yourself questioning the effectiveness of your retrospectives, give the Hot Air Balloon method a try. Your projects—and your team—will thank you.

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