Are retrospectives a method of making teams more effective – or are they just a waste of time?

According to a survey conducted at Microsoft “too many meetings” is considered to be the second biggest problem in agile methodologies (particularly with Scrum) as they are seen to be inefficient, time consuming and often poorly run. And yet, retrospectives are widely propagated as an appropriate means to increase team productivity, effectivity and efficiency – if “done right”, a tool to get teams back to using common sense when organising themselves.

I am currently working on research for my master thesis in Computing and Information Technology (MSc) at the University of Northumbria and in this research I want to find out what the current practice of retrospectives is. Do companies do retrospectives? How often? To what avail? (i.e. do they actually change anything?) I want to identify and explore the factors that have an impact on the effectiveness of retrospectives (positively and negatively) and find out what people think is the essence to getting most value out of retrospectives.