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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.

Appreciative Inquiry (#65)

Lift everyone's spirit with positive questions
Source: Doug Bradbury, adapted for SW development by Corinna Baldauf
This is a round-based activity. In each round you ask the team a question, they write down their answers (gives everyone time to think) and then read them out to the others.
Questions proposed for Software Development teams:
  1. When was the last time you were really engaged / animated / productive? What did you do? What had happened? How did it feel?
  2. From an application-/code-perspective: What is the awesomest stuff you've built together? What makes it great?
  3. Of the things you built for this company, which has the most value? Why?
  4. When did you work best with the Product Owner? What was good about it?
  5. When was your collaboration best?
  6. What was your most valuable contribution to the developer community (of this company)? How did you do it?
  7. Leave your modesty at the door: What is the most valuable skill / character trait you contribute to the team? Examples?
  8. What is your team's most important trait? What sets you apart?

('Remember the Future' (#37) works well as the next step.)

If I were you (#95)

What could sub-groups improve when interacting with others?
Source: Thomas Wallet
Identify sub-groups within the participants that interacted during the iteration, e.g. developers/testers, clients/providers, PO/developers, etc. Give participants 3 minutes to silently write down what they think their group did that negatively impacted another group. One person should be part of one group only and write stickies for all groups they don't belong to - 1 sticky per issue.

Then in turn all participants read their stickies and give them to the corresponding group. The affected group rates it from 0 ('It was not a problem') to 5 ('It was a big problem'). Thus you get insights and shared understanding about problems and can select some of them to work on.

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.