How to run an effective mad, sad, glad retrospective meeting

Learn the step-by-step process of running an effective mad, sad glad retrospective meeting. Transform your team's emotional journey into a learning experience and improve your performance.

Craft Author: Tom Norman
Tom Norman
Illustration of a meeting representing a mad sad glad retrospective meeting

Ever feel like your team is churning through projects but not making real progress? You're not alone. Navigating the nuances of team dynamics and project management can be like trying to solve a Rubik's Cube… blindfolded. A well-executed Mad, Sad, Glad Retrospective meeting might just be the tool you need. Retrospectives are invaluable in enhancing team cohesion and driving project success. Allowing you and your teammates to pause, reflect, and express how specific aspects of the project made you feel. 

What is a Mad, Sad, Glad Retrospective?

A Mad, Sad, Glad Retrospective is a framework that teams use to reflect on their past project or sprint. Participants categorize their thoughts and experiences into three emotional buckets: 

Mad: Mad represents the frustrations and obstacles that hampered progress or created conflict. Was there a bottleneck that slowed everything down? Did communication breakdowns lead to wasted efforts?

Sad: In the "Sad" category, team members share disappointments or areas where they felt the team fell short. This could be unmet goals, failed tasks, or simply areas that need improvement. Unlike "Mad," which is often about external factors, "Sad" often taps into feelings.

Glad: "Glad" is where team members highlight what went well. Whether it's hitting a milestone ahead of schedule, an innovative solution, or exceptional teamwork, the Glad section serves as a reminder of successes worth celebrating.

Why it works? While the terms are simple, the discussions they spark are anything but. By framing feedback in emotional terms, team members can more easily express what's on their mind. This sets the stage for a dialogue that's as deep as it is wide-ranging.

Mad, Sad, Glad Retrospective templates

Preparation for a Mad, Sad, Glad Retrospective

Before starting your retrospective meeting, you'll want to be prepared. Good prep work ensures a smoother, more efficient meeting, where everyone feels empowered to share and contribute. So what does preparation look like? Here's a breakdown:

  • Choose the right space: Whether it's a physical room or a virtual meeting space, the environment sets the tone. Make sure it's free from distractions and interruptions. Lighting, comfort, and accessibility matter more than you think.
  • Gather your tools: For in-person meetings, a whiteboard and different colored markers are pretty much a must-have. If you're going digital, pick a collaboration platform like Craft that has real-time features for everyone to participate simultaneously. Craft even has ready-made templates for retrospectives such as the Mad Sad Glad Retrospective which makes it really easy to host and run these retrospectives. 
  • Prepare a visual layout: Create designated areas on your whiteboard or digital workspace for "Mad," "Sad," and "Glad." This helps in organizing thoughts and makes the process more efficient.
  • Assign a facilitator: Decide who will guide the meeting. It could be the team leader, a project manager, or even an external facilitator. Their role is to keep the discussion on course, mediate any conflicts, and ensure that everyone has a chance to speak.

How to run a Mad, Sad, Glad Retrospective effectively

When it comes to the day of the meeting, here are the steps you should follow to conduct a successful a Mad, Sad, Glad Retrospective:

1. Setting the stage

  • Start the meeting by outlining the purpose and benefits of the Mad, Sad, Glad Retrospective, and emphasize that it is an open space for conversation focused on team growth and improvement.
  • Share the agenda so everyone knows what to expect. This sets the team up for focused and productive dialogue.

2. Gather data: the Mad, Sad, Glad exercise

  • Hand out sticky notes and markers, or, if you're using Craft, open up our Mad, Sad, Glad template.
  • Ask team members to jot down specific instances or tasks that made them feel Mad, Sad, or Glad during the last project or sprint.
  • Give about 5-10 minutes for this exercise. This allows people time to reflect without overthinking it.

3. Group and discuss

  • Gather the "Mad, Sad, and Glad" feedback from each team member and organize it within the craft template to clearly visualize the information. 
  • Starting with ‘Mad,’ discuss each point. What caused this feeling? How can it be resolved or improved?
  • Repeat for ‘Sad’ and ‘Glad,’ spending more time celebrating the ‘Glad’ to end on a positive note.

4. Generate action items

  • Based on the discussion, ask the team to suggest actionable steps for improvement.
  • Make sure each action item is specific and assign it to someone for accountability.
  • Prioritize actions if the list becomes too long; focus on what will have the most impact.

5. Close the retrospective

  • Recap what you've all learned and the action items you've committed to.
  • Schedule a follow-up meeting or set a date to check in on the progress of action items.

Common pitfalls and how to avoid them

Conducting retrospectives can be incredibly beneficial for team growth and cohesion, but like any process, they come with their own set of challenges. If you're not careful, you could find yourself steering off course. To keep you on the right path, here are some common pitfalls and proactive ways to dodge them:

  • Silence isn’t always golden: Encourage open discussion among team members. To create an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing use icebreakers or anonymous feedback tools to encourage open communication.
  • Keeping it simple is key: In an effort to cover all bases, you might be tempted to delve into every nook and cranny of an issue. However, Mad, Sad, Glad Retrospectives are designed to be straightforward, focusing on core feelings and experiences. Stick to the format and discourage tangential discussions. Save complex issues for a different meeting where they can get the attention they deserve.
  • Don't discount emotions: This isn't a checklist exercise; it's an emotional check-in. Emotions carry weight and can significantly impact team performance. Validate each person's feelings and show that you take them as seriously as any technical issue or project milestone.
  • Lack of follow-through: One major pitfall is treating the retrospective as an isolated event rather than part of an ongoing improvement process. Make sure you allocate time to act on the feedback received. Assign owners to specific action items and set deadlines to ensure that your retrospectives translate into tangible improvements.
  • Ignoring the positives: While it's crucial to address the 'Mad' and 'Sad' elements, overlooking the 'Glad' is another common mistake. Celebrating wins, however small, boosts morale and provides a more balanced view of the team's performance. Make it a point to acknowledge and celebrate successes alongside the challenges.

Examples of effective Mad, Sad, Glad Retrospective meetings

Below are some examples of different situations that can benefit from using a Mad, Sad, Glad retrospective:

  • Client relationships: If you're in client-facing roles, this retrospective can help pinpoint what's working well in your client interactions and what might need adjustment. It could also help identify systemic issues in the way your team communicates or delivers work to clients.
  • Content effectiveness: for teams focused on content marketing, this can be a space to evaluate the resonance of different types of content. Whether it's a well-received blog post or an eBook that didn't gain traction, discussions can revolve around improving content strategies.
  • Skill development: was there a new tool or strategy that the team picked up and loved? Or perhaps an old method that's no longer serving you? The "Glad" and "Sad" segments can help identify areas for skills development or training opportunities.
  • Identifying business goals: a retrospective like this can also align the marketing team's objectives with broader business goals. This is an opportunity to reassess priorities and re-calibrate tasks to ensure that everyone is pulling in the same direction.


Conducting a Mad, Sad, Glad Retrospective is more than a mere task to complete; it serves as a catalyst for team development. This straightforward approach empowers every team member to contribute, transforming observations into practical steps forward. It balances recognizing challenges with celebrating triumphs, all while setting the stage for future achievements. The key element of this retrospective is in its balance: as it's not solely focused on what went wrong but also provides a structured space to acknowledge and celebrate what went exceptionally well.

More retrospectives templates