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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.

Analyze Stories (#5)

Walk through each story handled by the team and look for possible improvements
Source: Corinna Baldauf
Preparation: Collect all stories handled during the iteration and bring them along to the retrospective.
In a group (10 people max.) read out each story. For each one discuss whether it went well or not. If it went well, capture why. If not discuss what you could do differently in the future.
Variants: You can use this for support tickets, bugs or any combination of work done by the team.

Force Field Analysis (#115)

Analyse the factors that support and hinder a particular initiative
Source: Derek Neighbors, via Joel Edwards
State the topic that the team will explore in depth (deployment processes, peer-programming, Definition of Done, ...). Break the room into groups of 3-4 people each. Give them 5-7 minutes to list all contributing factors, drivers and actions that make up the topic. Go around the room. Each group reads 1 of their sticky notes and puts it up inside the force field until no group has any items left. Cluster or discard duplicates. Repeat the last 2 steps for factors that inhibit or restrain the topic from being successful or being as effective as it could be. Review all posted items. Add any that are missing.

To identify the most influential factors, everybody gets to 4 votes - 2 for contributing factors, 2 for inhibitors. Tally the votes and mark the top 2x2 factors with big arrows. Spend the last 15-20 mins of the session brainstorming ways to increase the top driving factors and decrease the top restraining factors.

Open Items List (#24)

Participants propose and sign up for actions
Source: Corinna Baldauf, inspired by this list
Prepare a flip chart with 3 columns titled 'What', 'Who', and 'Due'. Ask one participant after the other, what they want to do to advance the team. Write down the task, agree on a 'done by'-date and let them sign their name.
If someone suggests an action for the whole team, the proposer needs to get buy-in (and signatures) from the others.

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.