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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.

Speedboat / Sailboat (#19)

Analyze what forces push you forward and what pulls you back
Source: Luke Hohmann, found at Mike Griffiths
Draw a speedboat onto a flip chart paper. Give it a strong motor as well as a heavy anchor. Team members silently write on sticky notes what propelled the team forward and what kept it in place. One idea per note. Post the stickies motor and anchor respectively. Read out each one and discuss how you can increase 'motors' and cut 'anchors'.

Variation: Some people add an iceberg in the back of the image. The iceberg represents obstacles they already see coming.

Snow Mountain (#118)

Address problematic burndowns and scope creep
Source: Olivier Fortier
This activity is helpful when a team is constantly dealing with additional requests and scope creep. Use the burndown chart of problematic sprints to draw snowy mountains with the same outline. Add a few trees here and there. Print drawings of kids in various sledging situations such as kid sledging down fast, kid sledging and being scared, kid with a sledge looking bored, etc. (You can use Google image search with 'kid sledging drawing').

In teams of 2 or 3, ask the team members to identify which kid's reaction goes with which part of the mountain.
Example: If the mountain is flat, the kid might be bored. If you're facing a wall, the kid might be scared.

You can then discuss the team's reaction facing their own burndowns.

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.