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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.

Proud & Sorry (#33)

What are team members proud or sorry about?
Source: Agile Retrospectives
Put up two posters labeled 'proud' and 'sorry'. Team members write down one instance per sticky note. When the time is up have everyone read out their note and post it to the appropriate poster.
Start a short conversation e.g. by asking:
  • Did anything surprise you?
  • What patterns do you see? What do they mean for you as a team?

Brainstorming / Filtering (#10)

Generate lots of ideas and filter them against your criteria
Source: Agile Retrospectives
Lay out the rules of brainstorming, and the goal: To generate lots of new ideas which will be filtered after the brainstorming.
  • Let people write down their ideas for 5-10 minutes
  • Go around the table repeatedly always asking one idea each, until all ideas are on the flip chart
  • Now ask for filters (e.g. cost, time investment, uniqueness of concept, brand appropriateness, ...). Let the group choose 4.
  • Apply each filter and mark ideas that pass all 4.
  • Which ideas will the group carry forward? Does someone feel strongly about one of the ideas?Otherwise use majority vote.
The selected ideas enter Phase 4.

Dot Voting - Start, Stop, Continue (#12)

Brainstorm what to start, stop & continue and pick the top initiatives
Source: Agile Retrospectives
Divide a flip chart into boxes headed with 'Start', 'Continue' and 'Stop'. Ask your participants to write concrete proposals for each category - 1 idea per index card. Let them write in silence for a few minutes. Let everyone read out their notes and post them to the appropriate category. Lead a short discussion on what the top 20% beneficial ideas are. Vote on it by distributing dotsor X's with a marker, e.g. 1, 2, and 3 dots for each person to distribute. The top 2 or 3 become your action items.

(Check out Paulo Caroli's 'Open the Box' for an awesome variation of this activity.)

Feedback Door - Numbers (ROTI) (#14)

Gauge participants' satisfaction with the retro on a scale from 1 to 5 in minimum time
Source: ALE 2011, Corinna Baldauf
Put sticky notes on the door with the numbers 1 through 5 on them. 1 is the topmost and best, 5 the lowest and worst.When ending the retrospective, ask your participants to put a sticky to the number they feel reflects the session. The sticky can be empty or have a comment or suggestion on it.

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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.