How to run a Retrospective (in Scrum) with Happiness Chemicals

How to run a Retrospective (in Scrum) with Happiness Chemicals

Management Summary

One of my favourite jobs in my intensive phase as Scrum Master in different projects was the design of different Retrospectives. In this article you will except:

  1. What are the “Happiness Chemicals”.
  2. How I applied it to make a different Retrospective.
  3. Why is a happy Scrum Team important to the project success.

What are “Happiness Chemicals”

Research shows that, there are mainly FOUR chemicals produced by our brains – Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and Endorphins (“DOSE” for easier to memorise) – influence our feeling for happiness. Yes, it is all about chemistry.

Dopamoine – Causes little happy feeling when one small step gets done on the to-do list, also known as reward or pleasure chemical.

Oxytocin – Will be released by the brain while having physical contacts with others, e.g. while kissing or hugging; it is responsible for love, friendship and trust, thus also known as the “LOVE”-Chemical.

Serotonin – Plays a role in the dynamics of pride, loyalty and status, or when others offer us protection and support (the so-called “Leadership” hormone); it is the key hormone that stabilises our mood, feeling and well-being.

Endorphins – Pushes your runner’s high, makes you desire to do one thing and one thing only; it also works like a pain-killer, results in an energised and euphoric feeling.

Dopamine and Endorphins have influence more on our personal performance. Oxytocin and Serotonin are having more influence on the performance of teams (because they are produced when having contacts or mutual supports).

I first came across these whole four “Happiness Chemicals” while watching a talk given by Simon Sinek.

Inspiration for a “Different” Retrospective

Being inspired by the information of these “Happiness Chemicals” I considered how I can transfer it and make a different retrospective out of it. Here is how.

  1. I made four flip charts for each of these chemicals, putting the name of each chemical on it with an icon, e.g., endorphins with a pain-killer and serotonin with a trophy.
  2. I took turns to introduce each chemical, e.g. Dopamine – Endorphins – Serotonin – Oxytocin (from personal feeling to team feeling), with a break between each chemical where the team does an exercise with sticky-notes and share with the rest of the team.
  3. Dopamine – Ask the team to share their small happiness moments during the sprint (in the sense of getting things done); encourage the team, no matter how big or small, it is about “DONE”.
  4. Endorphins – Ask the team to share their desires during the sprint, what has kept them moving forward in between; it is NOT about “DONE” but about “AMBITION”.
  5. Serotonin – Ask the team to share moments they feel getting support or recognition from other team members; it is not about the person but about mutual support and team spirit.
  6. Oxytocin – Ask the team to stand up and shake hands, do give-me-five, give a hug or just say “well done bro” to each other; this is not about a certain concrete support but about recognising the total team performance, no matter if someone is interacting with others or not.

At the end, like a lot of other workshops, you will get a lot of sticky-notes, but what is more, a transparent communication and mutual recognition in the team.

Depends on your own interest as a Scrum Master, you can do minor adaptions in the interpretation of each chemical. This retrospective – if run properly and regularly – will reinforce the Scrum values: Openness, Respect, Courage, Focus and Commitment.

The purpose is NOT about introducing the chemical knowledge but enhancing the team spirit. Of course, if you can connect the original meanings of the “Happiness Chemicals” with a happy team, why not?

Why a Happy Team is the foundation for Success

To be honest I don’t think I have to explain this at all. Simply put, can you imagine a “bad” team can deliver great results while doing a complex topic?

I can’t.

A great team will have better performance and thus deliverance, even it faces great challenges. Team members have no problem in sharing their own difficulties and asking for support. If the challenge is really too big to be overcome, the team can act as one person to take on the whole responsibility and face results together.

Not every project I coached had a happy ending. One closed even with the result of dismiss, i.e., the team had to be broken up, redistributed to different departments and take on new jobs.

This would be – unfortunately – often viewed as a loser-team. But even lose, the team members stick with each other together.


A good Scrum Master is good teacher, teaching the team about the basics when applying Scrum; a good facilitator in enabling the team with a healthy culture in communication; a good impediment-remover, helping to remove impediments beyond the team’s focus and ability; a servant leader to keep the team working as one single person, i.e. with great team spirit.

A Scrum Master should never be satisfied with a few methods for conducting retrospectives. He/she will always be engaged in introducing new things into the team and making a good team great.

(First published in June 2021)

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