A Retrospective for Many Participants

Every once in a while, there’s an opportunity to involve more people than 1 team in a retrospective. Could be a second team that you’re working with closely; managers that don’t usually see each other; stakeholders and customers; people up the hierarchy; representatives from other teams and departments; … You name it.

This plan works for up to 25 people. Maybe 30. For anything bigger, look into World Cafe or OpenSpace. Once you facilitate for more than 12-15 people, things get a lot harder. And everything takes much longer:

  • Lots of clarification is needed. There will always be someone who didn’t catch it the first time. Or the second time.
  • If you want everyone to be heard, well, there are now lots more people to speak.

That’s why it’s a good idea to double down on writing stuff out and visualizing. Do have an agenda hanging prominently. If the group contains people unfamiliar with agile, consider covering the Vegas Rule (“What happens in the retro, stays in the retro”) and Prime Directive before going over the agenda. Also state the goal of this retro.

Since meetings with more people take longer, they need breaks. At least one break of 10 minutes every 90 minutes. That’s the minimum. Unfortunately, people often don’t return on time after breaks. That’s why I usually say “10 minutes” and will wait 15 for the stragglers. That’s not nice for the people who are actually back on time. So far I haven’t found a better solution.

The key to meetings with many people is to divide and conquer … erm, facilitate. Frequently break up the big group into smaller groups. And – leading up to the big event – get yourself some help!

A week or two in advance, ask fellow facilitators to co-facilitate with you. Find at least one other person. If you can’t recruit another trained facilitator, ask for volunteers to help you to explain instructions to smaller groups. You can recruit them from the pool of participants because they are meant to help whichever smaller group they are ending up in. They don’t have to be go around the room and help different groups like you will.

To be clear: You ask for volunteers well in advance of the mega retro. Not at the actual event. If you’ve got participants around that know your plan for the day that will help a lot. They can explain activities and hand out material, giving you room to take care of trickier questions. Or of a smaller group that ended up without any of the volunteer explainers in them.

If you’ve found a proper co-facilitator you can plan the event together. For helpers from among the participants, have a planning meeting the day before the event. Go through times, activities, goals of the activities, materials, …

For a big event like this: Prepare, prepare, prepare. There will be a lot of eyes on you and you don’t want to waste people’s time with stuff you could have done beforehand.

Coming up with this plan was a little tricky because in my experience big events have a specific topic set in advance. And you should pick activities tailored to deal with this topic. Since there are a million possible topics (too many for me to pick one with any confidence), I opted for a general purpose activity for “Gather Data”.

When you plan your retro for many people and know your topic, adapt the plan below for your purposes. Replace #tweetmysprint with something targeted. Whatever you come up with, try to make it simple. Complicated instructions are more difficult to clarify in big groups than in small groups.

The following plan takes 2 hours and 15 minutes including a break. Add at least another 15 minutes as a buffer in your calendar invite. (For something longer than 3 hours you have to look into food and drinks.)

Participants will be standing or moving most of the time. Provide tables and chairs along the walls of the room for when the groups create a poster. Also sprinkle in a few chairs in convenient spots for people whose legs grow tired.

Retromat-ID: 52-97-91-61-53

Constellation – Opening (#52)

C> 15 min | Lyssa Adkins via Luis Goncalves

Place a circle or sphere in the middle of a free space. Let the participants gather around it. Explain that the circle is the center of approval: If they agree to a statement they should move towards it. If they don’t, they should move as far outwards as their degree of disagreement. Now read out statements, e.g.

  • I feel I can talk openly in this retrospective
  • I am looking forward to the next hours
  • I am satisfied with the last quarter
  • I am happy with the quality of our product

Wait a little after each question so that everybody can watch the constellations unfold. Debrief with questions about people’s observations, such as

  • What did you notice?
  • Which constellations were surprising?
  • What question should I have asked but didn’t?
  • What did you like or dislike about this experience?
  • When did you care the most about the result of a question?
  • What else would you like to share?
  • What did you learn about yourself and the group?
  • What are you more aware of now?

Only ask questions related to Psychological Safety like “I can talk openly in this retrospective” if you are prepared to deal with “negative” answers. If there is a large number of people moving away from the center, indicating that they will not talk openly – what will you do? You cannot ask questions like this and ignore an uncomfortable answer.

#tweetmysprint (#97)

C> 30 min | Thomas Guest

Ask participants to write up 2 or 3 tweets on sticky notes about the iteration they’ve just completed. Tweets could be on the iteration as a whole, on individual stories, a rant, or shameless self-promotion – as long as they are brief. Hash tags, emoticons, attached pictures, @usernames are all welcome. Allow 7 minutes to write the tweets, then arrange them in a timeline and discuss themes, trends etc. Now give participants 5 minutes to favorite, retweet and write replies to the tweets.

Ask, what topics emerge that they would like to talk about during this retrospective. Write the topics down.

Poster Session (#91)

C> 35 min | Adapted by Corinna Baldauf, inspired by Michal Grzeskowiak

Explain that groups of 2-4 will work on the topics. Each participant can only work on one topic.

Go through the list of topics and read out the first one. Ask who would like to work on this topic.

  • If you’ve got 0-1, interest is not big enough. Drop this topic.
  • If 2-4 raise their hands, yay!
  • If it’s more, create several groups of 2-4 for this topic. Move to the next topic.

After you’ve gone through the list, each group prepares a poster (flip chart) to present to the other groups. Give the teams guidelines about what the posters should cover / answer, such as:

  • What exactly happens? Why is that a problem?
  • Why / when / how does this situation happen?
  • Who benefits from the current situation? What is the benefit?
  • Possible solutions (with Pros and Cons)
  • Who could help change the situation?
  • … whatever is appropriate in your setting …

Provide the guidelines on a flipchart so that the participants can refer back to them.

The groups have 15-20 minutes to discuss and create their posters. Afterwards gather and each group gets 2 minutes to present their results.

10 Minute Break

It says “10 minute break” but it’ll be 15 unless you have the most disciplined of groups.

Chaos Cocktail Party (#61)

C> 25 min | Suzanne Garcia, Dr. Sivasailam “Thiagi” Thiagaraja

Everyone writes one card with an action that they think is important to take – the more specific the better. Provide printouts of the (SMART criteria) to raise the quality of actions.

Announce that writing clearly is important. People other than themselves will have to be able to read them.

Now team members start moving about in the room. Whenever they meet, they exchange their cards. In this way, nobody has a stake in making their card win.

After half a minute, tell them to pair up and chat about their cards like in a cocktail party. Every chat pair discusses the actions on their two cards. Stop the chatting after 2 minutes. Each chat pair splits 5 points between the two cards. More points go to the more important action. Pairs split up again, walk through the room and switch their card with someone else at least once, before pairing up again.

Organize 3 to 5 rounds of chats (depending on group size). In the end everybody adds up the points on their card. Start looking for the top ranked card by calling out “Does anybody have a card with (5 x NumberOfChats) points on it?”. It’s unlikely that any one card got the full 5 points every time. Lower the number like in an inverted auction until you find the card with the most points.

Ask: Who can implement this action? Is anybody opposed to it? What would have to change to make it acceptable? What’s the next step in implementing this? How will we know that it’s implemented? Who will make sure that we implement this action?

If the group agrees to have enough capacity for more actions, look for the second ranked card and (after the questions) possibly third ranked.

Constellation – Closing (#53)

C> 15 min | Lyssa Adkins via Luis Goncalves, Christoph Pater

Gather again in the free space around the sphere. Repeat that the sphere is the center of approval: If they agree to a statement they move towards it, if they don’t, they move as far outwards as their degree of disagreement. Now read out statements, e.g.

  • We talked about what was most important to me
  • I spoke openly today
  • I think the time of this retrospective was well invested
  • I am confident we will carry out our action items

Watch the constellations unfold. Ask questions about people’s observations, such as which constellations were surprising.

If you regularly facilitate for larger groups, look into Liberating Structures. They are a treasure trove of methods for any meeting or workshop and especially shine for large groups.

PS: This retro is 1 of 15 plans in my new 2020 book "Plans for Retrospectives". Check out the eBook