Boost team performance: running an effective starfish retrospective meeting

Explore our guide to starfish retrospectives. Encourage open dialogue and constructive feedback, and lead your team toward outstanding results.

A team having a business meeting surrounded by symbolic starfish.


Are you looking for a new way to boost your team’s performance? Say hello to Starfish Retrospectives—a retrospective meeting style that doesn't just look back but propels you forward. Read on to discover how to run one of these powerful sessions yourself.

What is a Starfish Retrospective meeting?

A Starfish Retrospective meeting consists of five parts designed to help you ask the right questions for you and your team:

1. Keep doing

This section focuses on practices, strategies, or behaviors that are working well and should continue.

Example questions: What actions or processes made our last project easier? Are there any team behaviors that positively impacted our work?

2. Less of

This area invites team members to discuss activities or habits that could be scaled back for efficiency.

Example questions: What tasks are we spending too much time on? Is there anything we feel is over-communicated or over-emphasized?

3. More of

Here you identify what the team is already doing well and could do even more of for greater impact.

Example questions: What's one thing we did well that we should do even more of? Are there certain practices that could make our workflow even better?

4. Start doing

This section is for brainstorming new ideas, processes, or actions that could improve the team's performance.

Example questions: What new techniques or tools should we consider using? Are there any untapped resources or talents within the team?

5. Stop doing

This category lets team members point out activities or attitudes that are hindering progress and need to be discontinued.

Example questions: What processes are not adding value? Are there attitudes or habits negatively affecting team morale?

Starfish retrospective meeting templates

Why are Starfish Retrospectives important?

The value of the Starfish Retrospective is its focus on collective wisdom. It's an exceptional tool for team improvement that:

Creating a safe space for open dialogue

It is easy to feel held back in meetings because of anxiety or fear of criticism. However, a Starfish Retrospective sets the tone for open communication from the get-go. This meeting style encourages everyone to speak up about what's working and what's not, and so creates an atmosphere where team members feel heard and valued.

Encouraging constructive feedback

The Starfish format directs the team's energy toward constructive feedback. Its five clear categories serve as channels for focused and meaningful critiques. This targeted approach helps in identifying problems and brainstorming solutions, making feedback an asset rather than a liability.

Highlighting areas for team and individual growth

One of the great things about this retrospective is that it doesn't only point out team-wide issues but also allows for individual reflection. Team members can quickly see where they shine and where they've got room to improve.

How to prepare for a Starfish Retrospective?

To get the most out of your Starfish Retrospective meeting, follow these five steps to suitably prepare:

1. Planning and communication

  • Try to schedule the retrospective as close as possible to the end of a project or sprint. Fresh experiences lead to richer discussions and more actionable insights.
  • Ensure that everyone who contributed to the project is present. This inclusivity ensures diverse perspectives and a comprehensive look at what went well and what didn't.
  • Clearly articulate the objective of the meeting. Is it to improve process efficiency? Boost team morale? When everyone knows the goal, you're already halfway to achieving it.

2. Materials and tools

Decide on the tools you'll use. Sticky notes and markers work great for in-person sessions. For virtual retrospectives, try Craft's Starfish Retrospective template so that everyone can contribute their ideas collaboratively.

3. Facilitation and structure

  • As the facilitator, come prepared with a clear agenda. Knowing how much time to allocate to each segment keeps the meeting on track and productive.
  • Plan out the sequence of activities. Will you start with 'Keep Doing' and end with 'Start Doing'? The flow matters because it sets the pace for participant engagement.

4. Previous actions

It's good practice to take a few minutes to review action items from previous retrospectives. Knowing what's been accomplished—and what hasn't—gives context to new action items.

5. Discussion prompts and questions

Prepare thought-provoking, open-ended questions for each Starfish category. These questions act as prompts when the conversation hits a lull and ensure that each category is thoroughly explored.

A step-by-step guide to conducting a Starfish Retrospective meeting

Step 1: Set the stage (5-10 minutes)

Welcome the team and briefly explain the purpose of the Starfish Retrospective, emphasizing its five-category approach. Briefly introduce the agenda and timeframe for the meeting, so that everyone knows what to expect.

Step 2: Gather ideas (15-20 minutes)

In this step, team members should individually brainstorm ideas related to the retrospective topic. Hand out sticky notes and markers or use Craft's collaboration features for a digital retrospective. Encourage team members to focus on specific actions or processes rather than generalities, and to not hold back in sharing their thoughts.

Step 3: Generate insights (15-20 minutes)

Allow a brief discussion of each idea and then the team can use Craft's Starfish Retrospective template to sort them grouped by the five categories. Remember the Starfish model allows for comments that might fit into multiple categories (e.g., something to both 'Start' and 'Do More Of')."

Step 4: Prioritize (10-15 minutes)

The collaborative feature on Craft means smaller subgroups can work through their ideas and then the team as a whole can discuss the potential impact of each issue within the Starfish categories. This analysis will help the team prioritize by taking into account the potential impact of the issues.

Step 5: Discuss the common themes (30-45 minutes)

Take a deeper look into the prioritized areas of the Starfish. Guide the discussion by asking focused questions like, "How can we implement this in our current sprint?" or "What obstacles are stopping us from doing this, and how can we remove them?"

Step 6: Decide actions (20-25 minutes)

Once the discussion is complete, the team collectively identifies actionable steps or improvements based on the insights generated. Assign responsibility for each action item to specific team members or roles in order to push for implementation and accountability.

Step 7: Reflect and close (5-10 minutes)

In the final step, summarize the key takeaways from the retrospective, including the actions to be taken. Reinforce the importance of continuous improvement to motivate the actions. Finally, the facilitator guides the team in reflecting on the retrospective session. Ask questions like, "Did the Starfish model help you think differently about our process?" and "What could improve our next Starfish Retrospective?" This not only brings closure but sets the stage for continuous improvement.

Common challenges in conducting a Starfish Retrospective meeting

Lack of participation

In a Starfish Retrospective, you have five categories to discuss. A lack of participation can make it hard to fill these categories with meaningful input.

Solution: Consider using a digital collaboration tool, like Craft, to let team members populate the Starfish categories anonymously before the meeting. This allows everyone to contribute without feeling put on the spot.

Lack of focus

With five categories to cover in a Starfish Retrospective, it's easy for the meeting to go off track or for one category to consume all the time.

Solution: Use a timer for each category discussion and have the facilitator give a two-minute warning before moving on to the next category. This ensures each area gets adequate focus.

Resistance to change

The 'Stop Doing' and 'Start Doing' categories in particular might spark resistance, as they often involve changes to established processes.

Solution: Emphasize that the Starfish Retrospective is a safe space for experimentation. Agree as a team to try the suggested changes on a trial basis and review the outcomes in the next retrospective.

Measuring the success of a Starfish Retrospective meeting

To gauge the success of your Starfish Retrospective meeting, there are several key performance indicators to keep an eye on.

First, look at task completion rates. If tasks assigned during the retrospective are completed on time, that's a strong sign that the meeting was effective in producing actionable outcomes.

Next, consider team satisfaction. If team members report feeling more satisfied with their work environment after the retrospective, it likely means the session created a platform for meaningful dialogue and problem-solving.

Finally, don't forget to examine productivity metrics. An increase in team output is a tangible indicator that the retrospective succeeded in optimizing workflows and improving overall productivity.


Conducting an effective Starfish Retrospective meeting can make a significant impact on your team's performance and cohesion. This meeting framework is unique with its five structured categories to carefully and clearly cover all areas of feedback on team performance and project outcomes. From planning and preparation to the implementation of action items, each step is designed to generate real, measurable changes.

Other retrospective meeting templates