Close out the year with creative improvements for the future. Lead your year-end retrospective with Liberating Structures for maximum innovation.

As the year comes to a close, hosting a retrospective is an ideal way to prepare for the new year. By taking an extensive look at all your past wins, losses, and lessons, you and your team are sure to come away with a clear idea of how to succeed in the near future.


In this article, we explore the benefits of holding a year-end retrospective as we cover the following topics:

  • The Retrospective Review
  • Debriefing With Liberating Structures
  • Frameworks for Retrospectives

 The Retrospective Review

A retrospective gives organizations the chance to reflect on everything that happened in the past year. Typically a meeting that reviews the end of a project, a retrospective also allows team members to review the year in full. A thorough retrospective transforms an end-of-year review into a structured approach to analyze and offer insights from the past year and discuss expectations for the coming year.

When preparing to facilitate a retrospective, consider questions such as:

  • What did we do best?
  • What went wrong?
  • How will we excel in the future? What’s the best path forward?

Though many approach an end-of-year review by highlighting what went wrong, consider reframing this year-end review with a focus on innovating towards a more engaging and positive future. Identify the most advantageous opportunities to improve your team’s effectiveness going forward. The most successful retrospectives highlight the most impactful improvements and the best ways to address them as soon as possible. 

Overall, a successful retrospective encourages your organization to improve its processes and practices to plan for a more enjoyable, engaging, and effective year. With the most appropriate framework in mind, you’ll be able to design a retrospective that gets the most out of your year-end review. 


Debriefing With Liberating Structures

Though there are a variety of frameworks for facilitating a retrospective, Liberating Structures offer an ideal approach to leading a retrospective

Created by Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz, Liberating Structures were designed to promote the most collaborative and engaging methods for facilitating conversations, meetings, and decisions.

LS Purpose to Practice


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Starting with practice and ending with purpose, categories are created, clustered, and then voted on. With each step, revisions are made based on the learnings from the previous step.

Liberating Structures were created with simplicity in mind to distribute control throughout the team. Leading a retrospective with this framework encourages innovation, participation, purpose, clarity, inclusion, and engagement.  

The 33 Liberating Structures gives facilitators the chance to take a creative approach to reviewing the past year. To facilitate a retrospective with Liberating Structures, consider the following 33 microstructures:

  • LS Menu
  • Wicked Questions
  • What Debrief 
  • Min Specs
  • Heaard, Seen, Respected,
  • What I Need From You
  • Integrated Autonomy
  • Design Elements
  • Appreciative Interviews
  • Discovery and Action Dialog
  • Improv Prototyping
  • Drawing Together
  • Open Space
  • Critical Uncertainties 
  • 1-2-4-All
  • TRIZ
  • Shift & Share
  • Helping Heuristics
  • Design Storyboards
  • Generative Relationships
  • Ecocycle
  • Impromptu Networking
  • 15% Solutions
  • 25:10 Crowdsourcing 
  • Conversation Cafe
  • Celebrity Interview 
  • Agree/Certainty Matrix
  • Panarchy
  • 9-Whys
  • Troika Consulting
  • Wise Crowds
  • User Experience Fishbowl
  • Social Network Webbing 
  • Simple Ethnography
  • Purpose to Practice 

With various microstructures to choose from, facilitators can creatively design team interactions in their retrospectives to start reviewing, revising, and reimagining. 


Frameworks for Retrospectives

Liberating Structures gives facilitators the chance to look at the year with renewed imagination and innovation. The most appropriate retrospective microstructures give all parties the chance to share their ideas and suggestions for creating an even better future. 

As you lean into Liberating Structures for the most effective retrospective, consider TRIZ, What, So What, Now What?’, and 15% Solutions microstructures.

  1. TRIZ

Theory of Inventive Problem Solving or TRIZ is designed to identify counterproductive actions and unhelpful activities. TRIZ follows a pre-mortem structure to help a group identify unforgettable yet important challenges that are negatively impacting the organization. TRIZ works best as a problem-solving strategy that facilitators and team members can use to uncover solutions to recurring problems from the year. 

TRIZ is unique in that it is a creative problem-solving philosophy that uses data, logic, and research. Drawing on past knowledge, this framework enhances the reliability, predictability, and repeatability of future solutions. While much of the future is unpredictable, TRIZ uses the standard principles of creativity to help make innovation and creativity more predictable. 

Key Tools for TRIZ

  • Generalizing Problems and Solutions

Problems and solutions are universal. Explore problems as contradictions to predict innovative solutions to these problems. 

  • Eliminating Contradictions

Within every problem is a fundamental contradiction. 

  • Technical contradictions are essentially trade-offs as a result of innovation.
  • Physical contradictions refer to situations where an object faces opposite requirements. 

2. What, So What, Now What

The What, So What, Now What microstructure helps teams step back, review information, and carefully consider what’s happening. This approach structures an organization by breaking down the experiences from the past year into three steps:

  •  What do we notice?
  • What does this mean?
  • Where do we go from here?

Through this process, facilitators and team members can uncover gaps in their understanding and the inner workings of others’ perspectives. The simplicity of this structure is adaptable to almost any situation and is an effective way to dissect the lessons learned in the past year. 

If-Then Storming


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If then storming gives you new ideas for considering the problem you are trying to solve.

In your retrospective, break down What, So What, Now What? into the following steps:


Participants write down their observations and identify what stood out. Each person shares their observations, first within a small group and next with the group as a whole. The important WHATS are captured on a whiteboard. 

So What?

Team members should write down patterns, hypotheses, and conclusions. Team members break into small groups to discuss these findings. The small group then shares their discussion with the entire group and captures the SO WHAT’S on the whiteboard.

 Now What?

Participants identify the next steps and discuss them in small groups. The small groups share these ideas with the whole group and write the NOW WHATS on the whiteboard.  

3. 15% Solutions

The 15% Solutions Liberating Structure is ideal for an end-of-year retrospective. This approach allows team members to highlight the best actionable steps forward. 

With 15% Solutions, team members identify small tweaks they can take to make greater progress and improve upon their larger goals. In the 15% Solution, an individual identifies the amount of work they can achieve without the resources or approval of others. 

Essentially, this framework focuses on actionable items that anyone can start right where they are. This allows team members to focus on what they can achieve within their discretion rather than be overwhelmed by what they can’t change. 

Begin the 15% Solutions with the following steps:

  1. Introduce 15% Solutions to your team.
  2. Each person should generate their own list of 15% Solutions.
  3. Participants share their solutions with a small group. 
  4. Groups should ask clarifying questions and give their team members advice.

Use 15% Solutions in your retrospective as a closing activity to determine how participants will contribute to improving your organization. This approach helps your organization shift from a focus on “how the team can improve” to “what personal contributions can I make to improve the team?”

The best is yet to come, and with a productive retrospective, you’ll set your team up for a successful start to the new year. Contact us at Voltage Control to learn more about creative facilitation using Liberating Structures. We are here to help you plan an innovative 2023! 

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