Creating safety at a first retrospective

A colleague recently asked me for some input on leading a team’s first retrospective:

I am leading a team’s first retrospective soon. From my initial research, it seems many of the participants are “scared to death” (mainly because they do not know what to expect). There is also speculation that it will be a challenge to get those same people to speak up. Any suggestions?

One thing that I’ve found to be helpful in making everyone feel comfortable to talk is doing an icebreaker activity in which everyone speaks. For a team that was new to me and was having its first retrospective, I started with a simple “emotion check-in” (on a post-it, write a word or phrase about how you’re feeling right now). Instead of having them read their own, I had them put them in a hat, pass the hat back around and pull out someone else’s, and read it. That gave them a chance to speak without any real pressure. Studies have shown that when someone speaks once, he or she is more likely to speak again.

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