Workshop on Sustainable Retrospectives @ AgileTable Friedrichshafen

In my post on the first Agile Table Friedrichshafen I was just writing about Daniel Hommel‘s offer to visit us. Now for our second Agile Table meeting mid of September, he already visited us which made me very glad & thankful that he travelled that far to support us.

From the beginning…

Seven people from five different companies gathered at Avira’s headoffice in Tettnang (kudos to Oliver for the organisation). There we welcomed Daniel after he found his way to Tettnang just in time. I must admit that for me it’s always a bit like a little “culture shock” when driving to bigger cities… and so it must have been for him driving through the marvellous Allgäu-style landscape which covers the last 25 kilometers after leaving the motorway. 😉
Daniel brought a pile of post-its (of course!), recommendable books and a lot of agile play material (like story cubes) with him.

After some getting to know each other and ordering the After-Workshop-Pizza, we lifted off with the workshop.

The workshop on sustainable retrospectives

Collect aspects of good retrospectives

After a short icebreaker where we checked each others experience with retrospectives on a scale between Who’s this guy called ‘retro’? and I am Norman Kerth! we split into two groups and started gathering aspects of good retrospectives. Given clusters for this activity were:

  • Preparation/Setting
  • Material & Tools
  • Activities & ‘Formats’
  • Other

We had a lot of stickies in the first section on preparation and setting, but you cannot say that there’s a rule of thumb for this, Daniel told us from his experience with this workshop.

Storytelling about ‘elephants in the room’

Next, Daniel already prepared some stickies with topics where dysfunctions might appear and encouraged the group to step up, grab a post-it and tell a story about failing in the area/topic which was mentioned on the paper. Usually these were stories about so-called Elephants in the room. Elephants in the room (like ‘Elks on the table’ or similar metaphors) are subjects that are hard to speak truth about for people in a room/group – even if nearly everybody involved knows that there is an issue. We managed to spot all the given “elephants” in the wild; it was good to hear so many stories from different people sharing small failures or peculiarities. This is where we can learn from!

Present & cluster the harvested dysfunctions of retros

While people were telling their stories about ‘the Elephants’ and things going not-so-well, all the others listened carefully & harvested the possible dysfunctions of the situation that might have led to the described situation. Finally we collected & clustered these dysfunctions together on a flipchart after the storytelling activity.

Work on solutions for dysfunctions

For the last activity we shuffled the two groups. Each group then picked two dysfunctions from the flipchart where they wanted to work out possible solutions.
Finally we also presented these results shortly to the others and did a quick retro on the retro… befoooore we gathered for the pizza and fine informal conversation in the Avira canteen.

Some more insights on retrospectives…

I noted some more hints & tipps while chatting after the workshop. Some are very straightforward, all are somehow important and some may tend to be forgotten sometimes. I also might have mixed the input of the evening with my own experiences. 😉 So here they are… feel free to add your insights & experiences in the comments!

Start with the small things

  • use a variation of a know method, e.g. mad/sad/glad, sailboat/racing car/hot air balloon, …
  • try out an icebreaker or a new warmup activity
  • practice patience (with your team and also with yourself… not so easy, I know that!)

‘Basics’ matter!

  • prepare yourself regarding good timing and structure (=have kind of “red line” in front of your inner eye)
  • work on a self-assured appearance and performance
  • you as a facilitator have to feel comfortable with what you’re doing! (otherwise your team will feel uncomfortable)

Add playful elements

Play helps us in making experience without being too tightly involved. Playful elements can also be added in small steps and yet be effective. E.g. try experimenting with Story Cubes as an ice breaker, use films as mottos or try serious games.

Some recommendable web resources


Daniel Hommel‘s workshop on Sustainable Retrospectives at Agile Table Friedrichshafen was soo much fun, brought many new insights for all levels for retrospective facilitators & a bunch of new resources.