Words Retro for Team Building

Once and a while I add some team building activities to my retrospectives.  I find it lightens up the mood for the team and uncovers some issues we never seem to get to in a typical iteration retrospective.  The idea is a simple one: free space to ask any question to anyone in the team and everyone gets a turn.  I like the start the retro with a checkin, like most of my retros, so it breaks the silence contract (everyone participates).  I then bring up the following power point document: WordsRetro.

The order goes like this:

  1. Pick an available theme word from the words list
  2. Pick someone in the team or a customer (no directing a question to everyone in the room)
  3. Ask your question
  4. The answerer responds
  5. Everyone gets a chance to respond whether they agree or disagree
  6. The word is removed from the list
  7. The person to the right is next
  8. Rinse and repet

Its important everyone gets a chance to ask a question and its best if you can go around the room twice but, once can be good enough.  I like to think of this activity as a set of mini-retros put together with the format of gather data, look for patterns, and decide what to do all within asking the question to ending the discussion.  Although, I tend to avoid making decisions.  The idea of this activity is to understand each other better, not make tweaks to the team.  I do something similar when forming the team, however, I spend more time guiding the questions and getting everyone to answer the question before having a discussion (I’ll cover that activity in another post).

In facilitating this activity, its important to keep the meeting moving forward.  I find its a good idea as a new member begins their turn to give the next person at heads up to start thinking of their question.  Another strategy I use if dealing with remote customers is to start in the middle of the group you are physically in the room with, giving the offsite members a chance to figure out how the activity works.  Then, I rotate the turn to the offsite people.  Breaking up the group like this seems to create a everyone is included feel and keeps the discussions from becoming a us verse them senario.

I’ve used this activity on several teams and had some great feedback not only about breaking up the monotony of our Agile ceremonies but, also learning about their co-workers opinions and concerns.

Let me know what you think.


Terry T


Posted on March 8, 2013, in Activities and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hi
    This looks interesting, but could you perhaps give some examples of what good questions are like?

    • Sorry it took so long to reply. Good questions get to the “why” of things. Asking questions that might be obvious makes sure its answer is out in the open. Something happened during the iteration to the developers and they all seem to know it but, the customers might not know the whole story.

      I will try to do a post focusing on good questions soon with examples of team conversations during retrospective.

      Thanks for reading! Cheers, Terry T

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