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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


Team Building Thoughts Take One

This week  I tried something different while facilitating a retrospective for a team in my department.  I asked them if instead of conducting a normal retrospective, if they would enjoy some team building exercises.  I’m glad to report that they said yes because it’s something I’ve wanted to try for a while now.

I used an activity from Lyssa Adkins Agile Coaching book about value words.  The activity is explained for starting up new teams, however, I saw no reason it could not be taken advantage by an active team.   I had to make some modifications for time and to account for video conferencing to a remote site.  I created a value word poker game which will need some refinement before sharing.

After the hour ended, I got lots of positive feedback from the team.  Great success!  It got me thinking, was the team just starving for team building or was it just a pleasant diversion from the weekly retrospective?  It could be both.  I’ve found most teams believe in team building but, besides going to lunch, no one really knows how to do it.

In the weeks ahead, I’m going to spend time coming up with team building activities that circumvent the remote location issues and move them into the monthly or bi-monthly rotation of team retrospectives.  Besides, what better place to learn about your teammates and use the time wisely given to teams then in a retrospective?


Terry T