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String Theory (#129)

Surface shared traits and mutual interests among team members
Source: Eben Halford
This is an excellent activity for newly formed teams of 6 to 15 members. It speeds up team building by sharing traits and interests so that team members can build closer bonds than possible with just work-related stuff.

Have the team form a circle with everyone looking inwards. Leave about a foot of space between people. Depending on what you want to stress with this activity, you can ask colleagues that usually work remotely to stand about 5 feet away from the circle.

Hand a ball of yarn to a random player and tell them to hold on tight to the end of the yarn with their non-dominant hand and the ball in the dominant one. The yarn holder starts the game by saying something about themselves that is not work-related such as 'I have a daughter' or 'I play the guitar'. If this statement is true for any other team member they raise their hand and say 'Yes, that's me'. The yarn holder passes the ball to the person who raised their hand. If there's more than one, the yarn holder can choose one. If no one shares the statement the yarn holder has to make another statement.

The person who received the ball of yarn holds on to the thread and tautens it. This is the first connection in a network of shared traits. The new yarn holder now makes a statement about themselves, passes the ball while holding on to their part of the yarn and so on.

The game ends when time is up OR everybody has at least two connections OR the yarn runs out.

You can debrief with some of these questions:
  • What did you notice?
  • If you've got remote people: How does it feel to stand apart? How does it feel to have someone stand apart?
  • How do you feel about few (or no) connections?
  • What is it like to see this web of connections?
  • Can you be a team without this web?
  • What would happen if someone let go of their threads? How would it affect the team?
  • Is there anything you will do differently at work now?

This activity is only the first part of a longer game.

Hit the Headlines (#119)

Which sprint events were newsworthy?
Source: Thomas Guest
Collect some news headlines in advance and take them to the retrospective to serve as examples. Try to gather a mixture of headlines: factual, opinion, review. Place the headlines where everyone can see them. Hand out sticky notes. Give team members 10 minutes to come up with their own headlines describing newsworthy aspects of the sprint. Encourage short, punchy headlines.
Stick the completed headlines to a whiteboard. If any cover the same news item, combine them. If any are unclear, ask the reporter for details. Vote on which news items to discuss and analyse in more depth.

Brainwriting (#66)

Written brainstorming levels the playing field for introverts
Source: Prof. Bernd Rohrbach
Pose a central question, such as 'What actions should we take in the next iteration to improve?'. Hand out paper and pens. Everybody writes down their ideas. After 3 minutes everyone passes their paper to their neighbour and continues to write on the one they've gotten. As soon as they run out of ideas, they can read the ideas that are already on the paper and extend them. Rules: No negative comments and everyone writes their ideas down only once. (If several people write down the same idea, that's okay.)
Pass the papers every 3 minutes until everyone had every paper. Pass one last time. Now everyone reads their paper and picks the top 3 ideas. Collect all top 3's on a flip chart for the next phase.

Circles & Soup / Circle of Influence (#29)

Create actions based on how much control the team has to carry them out
Source: Diana Larsen who adapted it from 'Seven Habits of Highly Effective People' by Stephen Covey and Circle of Influence and Concern' by Jim Bullock
Prepare a flip chart with 3 concentric circles, each big enough to put stickies in. Label them 'Team controls - Direct action', 'Team influences - Persuasive/recommending action' and 'The soup - Response action', from innermost to outermost circle respectively. ('The soup' denotes the wider system the team is embedded into.) Take your insights from the last phase and put them in the appropriate circle.
The participants write down possible actions in pairs of two. Encourage them to concentrate on issues in their circle of influence. The pairs post their action plans next to the respective issue and read it out loud. Agree on which plans to try (via discussion, majority vote, dot voting, ...)

Helped, Hindered, Hypothesis (#16)

Get concrete feedback on how you facilitated
Source: Agile Retrospectives
Prepare 3 flip chart papers titled 'Helped', 'Hindered', and 'Hypothesis' (suggestions for things to try out). Ask participants to help you grow and improve as a facilitator by writing you sticky notes and signing their initials so that you may ask questions later.

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Retromat contains 127 activities, allowing for 8349005 combinations (25x30x22x22x23+5) and we are constantly adding more.

Created by Corinna Baldauf

Corinna wished for something like Retromat during her Scrummaster years. Eventually she just built it herself in the hope that it would be useful to others, too. Any questions, suggestions or encouragement? You can email her or follow her on Twitter. If you like Retromat you might also like Corinna's blog and her summaries on Wall-Skills.com.

Co-developed by Timon Fiddike

Timon gives Scrum Trainings. As Integral Coach and Agile Coach he coaches executives, managers, product owners and scrum masters. He has used Retromat since 2013 and started to build new features in 2016. You can email him or follow him on Twitter. Photo © Ina Abraham.