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Spot the Elephant (#130)

Are there problems nobody talks about?
Source: Willem Larsen
Prepare 1 set of cards per team member. A set of cards contains 1 elephant card, 1 boot card, 1 happy sun card, and 1 moon card. Explain how they each choose one card from their set:
  • If a team member thinks there is at least one 'Elephant in the room' (unspoken but important problem) for this team, then choose the Elephant card. Choosing this card doesn't mean that they have to talk about the Elephant or even say what they think the problem is.
  • If there are no Elephants, but they got their feelings hurt in an interaction at least once since the last retrospective (and didn't mention it), choose the Boot crushing flower card.
  • If everything is hunky dory for them, choose the Happy Sun.
  • If they're uncomfortable sharing, or don't feel like any other card fits, choose the neutral Moon.
To preserve anonymity, everyone places their chosen card face down on the feedback pile and the rest of their sets face down on a discard pile. Shuffle the discard pile to ensure anonymity and put it aside. Shuffle the feedback pile and then reveal the cards one at a time.

If your team has 1 or more Elephants in the room, you have some serious issues with psychological safety. Let the team sit with their new knowledge and offer a larger retrospective soon to make space for them to share if they wish, but do not ask directly who chose what. Preserve the anonymity and do not coerce explanations of the chosen card! This is a critical opportunity to build trust and preserve your ability to gain insight into the state of the team.

In the same way, depending on the size of your team, two or more hurt feelings suggest that you may have safety issues. Two or more Moons also suggests a lack of psychological safety. Take this feedback into consideration when designing your next retro. There are lots of great ways to more thoroughly dive into and surface learnings, this activity just points out when such a retrospective is needed.

Find your Focus Principle (#123)

Discuss the 12 agile principles and pick one to work on
Source: Tobias Baier
Print the principles of the Agile Manifesto onto cards, one principle per card. If the group is large, split it and provide each smaller group with their own set of the principles.

Explain that you want to order the principles according to the following question: 'How much do we need to improve regarding this principle?'. In the end the principle that is the team's weakest spot should be on top of the list.

Start with a random principle, discuss what it means and how much need for improvement you see, then place it in the middle. Pick the next principle, discuss what it means and sort it relatively to the other principles. You can propose a position depending on the previous discussion and move from there by comparison. Repeat this until all cards are sorted.

Now consider the card on top: This is presumeably the most needed and most urgent principle you should work on. How does the team feel about it? Does everyone still agree? What are the reasons there is the biggest demand for change here? Should you compare to the second or third most important issue again? If someone would now rather choose the second position, why?

5 Whys (#8)

Drill down to the root cause of problems by repeatedly asking 'Why?'
Source: Agile Retrospectives
Divide the participants into small groups (<= 4 people) and give each group one of the top identified issues. Instructions for the group:
  • One person asks the others 'Why did that happen?' repeatedly to find the root cause or a chain of events
  • Record the root causes (often the answer to the 5th 'Why?')
Let the groups share their findings.

Dot Voting - Keep, Drop, Add (#38)

Brainstorm what behaviors to keep, drop & add and pick the top initiatives
Source: Agile Retrospectives
Divide a flip chart into boxes headed with 'Keep', 'Drop' and 'Add'. 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 dots or 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.

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.