Organization-wide retrospectives? Open Space!

For the longest time, I thought “company-wide retrospectives = “normal retros, but scaled up with activities that work for big groups and lots of breakout sessions”. If you had asked me if it’s a good idea to do company-wide retros every once in a while I would have said yes. Retros are always a good idea in my book – as long as they enable change.

Did sipgate (my place of work for more than a decade) do company-wide retrospectives? No, only on the team level. Was it a problem? Also no – except for a few exceptions. It took me an embarassingly long time to realize that the reason there were relatively few unaddressed problems was that THERE WERE COMPANY-WIDE RETROSPECTIVES. But I didn’t see that because it was a completely different mechanism. It served many of the same purposes, though: The Open Friday.

Open Friday / Open Space in a Nutshell

“Every other Friday, everyone at sipgate is free to do what they think is most valuable for the company. Additionally we hold an Open Space – a spontaneously organized conference. Everybody who wants to take part gathers for the opening ceremony at 10am and participants announce their sessions, bit by bit creating a schedule for several rooms and timeslots. Attendance is 100% voluntary. Participants visit the sessions they are interested in.” – Paraphrased from

How is an Open Space similar to a retrospective?

Actually, it’s not that similar: the Open Friday (OF) fulfills A TON of different purposes. I think that’s why it took me so long to see that it ALSO serves as company-wide retrospectives, because it so much more than that. But hosting company-wide retrospectives is probably the biggest chunk of value the OF adds:

Headline: A circle headlined Open Friday. With in the circle are smaller circles called Research; Show&Tell;  Training; Collect ideas/experiences; Special retros ie post mortems, after an event (these are obviously retros); and the biggest circle is Address problems - Compare observations and ideas - Come up with a plan of action (suspiciously retro-shaped)

That big dark green circle are sessions along the lines of “I’ve noticed that X. I think this is a problem because Y. I’d like to talk about whether it is a problem and if so, what we can do.” These are the sessions that fulfill many of the same purposes that retrospectives fulfill in a team. The topic is set beforehand and everybody interested in it will self-select to attend. With the people there you build a shared understanding with many different views of the topic and explore different solutions.

Where are these sessions different from retrospectives?

  • In a team retrospective it’s clear who is going to attend. In an Open Space this is completely undefined. The upside: Everybody who is there wants to be there. The downside: No control over who is there.
    In some unfortunate sessions all the people, that are aware of a problem, take part but none of the people in positions to fix it, attend. (You can still act! But it will be along the lines of “What evidence do we need to show to whom to affect change?”)
  • You need someone to address a problem before you can work on it. For many people it will be more difficult to speak up in a company-wide event than in a team-sized event
  • Accountability for implementing actions is typically lower in large groups than in small ones
  • The session is facilitated by whoever suggests it whereas retrospectives often have a dedicated (and trained) facilitator. (Rarely a problem at sipgate because the level of hive-mind facilitation skills is really high.


The best way to hold a company-wide retrospective might look different from what you think. It certainly looks different from what I used to imagine.

In hindsight it’s quite ironic: “Open Friday” is easily the “hack” in my / the sipgate book “24 Work Hacks” that people get most excited about. That’s the one they want to copy. I was always a bit sad on behalf of retrospectives, because that would have been my pick. And it wasn’t until years later that I finally realized that people DO pick retrospectives, it’s just that they need something to address company-wide issues a lot more than something usually used at the team level. It makes total sense to me now. Most hard problems are bigger than a single team.

Since it took me so long to get to this major light bulb moment, I thought I’d share with you.

PS: You don’t need start holding an Open Space every 2 weeks to get the benefits. You can start a lot smaller. Find tips on Open (which was also written by me, back in the day).

Facilitation is a Team Sport – New Book

What if you could have better discussions as a team – shorter and with more shared information? With or without a facilitatior. And if you yourself are the facilitator: What if your life could be easier?

Please welcome my FREE new mini book 🙂

It introduces techniques to improve your co-located discussions. We’ll look at 

  • Finger Queue to improve turn taking and flow
  • Hand Signals to visually add information and cut down on repetitions and 
  • Lean Coffee to prioritise topics

Check out “Facilitation is a Team Sport”

PS: Did you know there's a Retromat eBook Bundle? Ready-made retrospective plans for beginners and all activities from Retromat for experienced facilitators. Check out the Retromat books

“Scheduling” retrospectives with a Jenga Tower

“We don’t need regular retrospectives. Can’t we just do them, when we need them?”

In my mind that always translated to “We will not do retros while problems are small. We will wait until it’s way too late and our problems are very big and intimidating and much more difficult to resolve.”

But at Agile Coach Camp Germany 2023 Falk Kühnel told me of an interesting way to “schedule” retrospectives at irregular intervals and it’s the first time I think that it might work. You just need a Jenga tower.

You set up the tower in the team room and play a game of Jenga (pull a brick, put it on top of the tower) drawn out over several weeks. When the tower falls over that’s your cue to schedule a retrospective ASAP. You pull a brick when:

  • Daily standup is over
  • A “disruption” happens – A disruption is something annoying / hindering that the team wants to keep track of. If it happens often, the Jenga tower topples earlier and you talk about the pattern of disruptions. (What is considered a disruption should change over time as old issues get resolved and new ones arise.)
  • Someone feels a retrospective should happen earlier rather than later

There is also an emergency override: If something drastic happens that one of the team members think warrants a conversation right fucking now, they can topple the entire tower to make the retrospective happen ASAP.

This mechanism is the brainchild of Timo Zimmermann and it’s the first time I’m in love with any alternative to regular retrospectives. It has a time component, because at least one brick moves every day and then several ways to speed things up, according to the team’s needs. 

Timo shares that they’ve used the Jenga tower for more than a year and would have continued if Covid hadn’t happened. The tower’s success was underlined by the fact that the table it stood on was cluttered in the beginning and then gradually cleaned up as the tower got pride of place.

Other evidence: When they successfully solved a type of disruption, the team picked new ones. And the utterance “arg, nah, I don’t wanna do a retro” became a thing of the past.

Thank you, Timo & Falk for sharing with us!

Sneak Preview: Miro Templates

[Update: It’s done! Check out the Retromat Miroboard Mega Template!]

Ever since Covid hit, we use Miro at my work. A lot. For all our remote and hybrid retrospectives. To make preparing easier we’ve got a board with templates for about 30ish activities. It’s helpful but the collection is haphazard and they have very different looks to them.

So I got thinking… What if I made a template for each and every activity in Retromat, all 144 of them. Because I use Retromat to prep 99% of my retros. And it would fit my workflow beautifully: Pick activities that I like, find the template by its ID, copy it into a new board for the individual retro, maybe finishing touches like entering names, boom, done!

Behold the budding Retromat Mega-Template:

I’m 50 activities in and have already started using it. As I think it might be useful for other too, I’ll turn this into a product, when I’m done. (Paid Miro plans can export and import boards.)

The nice side effect of designing these as a product is that I build them a lot prettier than I would build a set for just myself. I’m known for my knowledge of methods, I’m not known for pretty boards … Well, until now!

Via the newsletter I found beta testers and have already improved based on their feedback. I think it’s gonna be great \o/

Are you using a digital whiteboard? Which tool? And do you also have a template board for quick preparation by copy-pasting?

Update: It’s done! Check out the Retromat Miroboard Mega Template!

Check-Ins, Ice Breakers and Mini Games

There are a million different ways to start a meeting with something that connects the participants. The activities for “Set the Stage” in Retromat has some specifically for retrospectives. Today I’d like to share two additional resources with you, to check out for inspiration: by Denkwerk

Quite well known, at least in Germany: This site randomly suggests a question, e. g. to ask at the beginning of the daily standup. A nice collection with a very pleasing look and feel. by Dominic Lagger

If you’d like to invest a tiny bit more time you can insert more playfullness with one of the games from this site.

Which sites, questions or games do you like to use to get off to a great start?

PS: Did you know there's a Retromat eBook Bundle? Ready-made retrospective plans for beginners and all activities from Retromat for experienced facilitators. Check out the Retromat books

Why I love ‘I like, I wish, I wonder’

... and which popular activities I never use

This week I ran another workshop on retrospectives, during which participants plan a retrospective (usually the first time they are doing that). While I was hopping through the breakout sessions, I got a super specific question: “When do you use ‘Start Stop Continue’ and when do you use ‘I like, I wish (I wonder)‘?” (I had introduced ‘I like, I wish, I wonder’ earlier in the workshop but not ‘Start Stop Continue’.)

To me, that question is very easily answered because I never use ‘Start Stop Continue’. That’s weird right? It’s one of the best known activities out there and I never pick it. Don’t get me wrong, ‘Start Stop Continue’ is not a bad activity. It’s perfectly adequate and will get results. I just know other activities that I think yield even better results so that I never fall back on ‘Start Stop Continue’.

And why is that? Well, when I see ‘Start Stop Continue’ in action, there’s often duplication: topics that appear in both ‘Start’ and ‘Stop’ just differently phrased. But that’s not unique to this activity and also not a big deal. The better question is perhaps why I love ‘I like, I wish, I wonder’ so much more:

To me, both ‘I wish’ and ‘I wonder’ are invitations to raise issues in a way that is non-threatening. It makes it easier to address hard topics without antagonizing someone and thus easier to talk about. There is no such nudge inherent in ‘Start Stop Continue’. And that’s why I find myself picking ‘I like, I wish, I wonder’ a lot.

PS: Another popular activity that I use even less than ‘Start Stop Continue’ is ‘Starfish‘. IMO it leads to soooo much duplication (way more than ‘Start Stop Continue’) to the point that it makes clustering difficult. But it is undoubtedly popular. If you love using ‘Starfish’, what’s the benefit that I’m missing?

PS: Did you know there's a Retromat eBook Bundle? Ready-made retrospective plans for beginners and all activities from Retromat for experienced facilitators. Check out the Retromat books

Free new mini book: Asking for a Better Future

For years and years I’ve been meaning to get a proper coaching education. Last year I finally took the plunge and this year I finished the year-long programme “Lösungsfokussiertes Coachen und Beraten“. It’s been amazing and I’m so glad I picked it! Solution-focus is definitely my jam 🙂

It’s helpful as a mindset in just about any situation and retrospectives are no exception. If you’re looking for something that will help make your retrospectives more energising and achieve better results, say no more, that’s what I wrote my final thesis on:

Cover “Asking for a Better Future”

PS: Did you know there's a Retromat eBook Bundle? Ready-made retrospective plans for beginners and all activities from Retromat for experienced facilitators. Check out the Retromat books

Hello Polish Retromat!

A heartfelt “Witam!” to the Polish version of Retromat that launched on May 6th 2022 for Retromat’s 10 year anniversary \o/

Huge thanks go to Jarosław Łojko for translating 30 activities so far.

PS: There is a Japanese version in the works. So more language goodness to look forward to 😀

PS: Did you know there's a Retromat eBook Bundle? Ready-made retrospective plans for beginners and all activities from Retromat for experienced facilitators. Check out the Retromat books