Carolina Gorosito shares a technique for high-stakes, high-risk Retrospectives

Retrospectives are one of the most challenging aspects for us as Scrum Masters. Retrospectives drive the teams insane because they question their sense of security. They Retrospectives drive Scrum Masters insane because it is a high-pressure, fail-prone meeting. Retrospectives drive stakeholders insane because they can cause communication problems, or escalations that they will then have to tackle. With this kind of pressure we need a technique that helps us surface problems in a safe way, and help the teams understand their own situation without a major break-down. Carolina explains the Constellation exercise and how that can help us with high-stakes Retrospectives.

For more information on the Constellation retrospective technique read Carolina’s article on the Scrum Master Toolbox Podcast blog.

About Carolina Gorosito

Carolina is a natural connector and team enabler, great at finding people’s strengths and helping them combine their skills to become hi performers in the organisations and obtain better results every day.

You can connect with her via her personal blog: carolinagorosito.com.

You can link with Carolina Gorosito on LinkedIn and connect with Carolina Gorosito on Twitter.

Constellations dynamic for retrospectives

Total time execution for this format: 60-90 minutes

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Purpose

The purpose of this dynamic is for everybody to participate and share their feelings, perceptions and opinions without even talking (at first).

Benefits

  • For the team: They can see themselves and understand their colleagues from a different perspective, they can really feel others because they are not talking or trying to gain their position within the room. They just observe, feel and act their feelings.
  • For the facilitator: There is something so powerful about standing in a circle. You know it if you do your daily meeting. We can immediately see the whole picture, the real feedback from the team without mixed perceptions or words, which generally cover the real significance. We can say: “bodies don’t lie”.

Objectives

  • Empathy building.
  • Address and specify the situation the coach is sensing and the team doesn’t feel like talking about this for of any reason (e. it’s too painful, they feel uncomfortable, and some team members are unaware).

What you need – Preparation

  • Find out the number of participants first: The room where the retrospective will be run must have enough space for everybody in the team to be able to stand up in a circle (and move from a tight to a larger circle).
  • Adhesive tape: to post the cards on the wall or board before the discussion.
  • An element or object: big enough to serve as a reference for the responses, noticeable and “good looking” (I wouldn’t recommend a trash bin), and not so distracting or not so high that participants can’t look at each other’s faces. (e., it could be a mini statue, an umbrella stand, or a little circle drawn in the middle of the room).
  • Write down statements or questions: to read out loud on cards so the team can express their response about these topics.
    • Statements examples:
      • I feel free to express in this retrospective.
      • I am satisfied with the results of this sprint.
      • I am happy with the quality of our code.
      • I consider our releases are easy and smoothly delivered.
      • I think my daily work is recognised.
    • Question examples:
      • Do you feel safe enough to be able to express in this retro?
      • Are you satisfied with the team collaboration?
      • Do you consider the technical debt has been reduced in this sprint?
      • Do you feel motivated in your daily work?
      • Do you think you are making an impact on people’s lives with our product?

How to run the retrospective

A. Introduction (1-5 minutes)

  1. Brief check in: Make sure the team is relaxed and ready to start. A brief check in exercise can help to set the environment.
  2. Explain the rules: Position the element in the centre of the room to act as a reference for the team members. No one is allowed to talk during this exercise. Only explain that standing closer to the object will mean “YES”, “I TOTALLY AGREE”, while being farther will represent of “I DON’T AGREE”, “NO”.

B. Running the exercise (10-15 minutes)

  1. Read the cards out loud one by one and leave time for the participants to respond with action.
  2. Observe the situation: They will individually respond by getting closer or farther from the object. You will notice people in between: “I AM NOT SURE” or “MAYBE”, just watch. Take mental notes, or have someone external to the team help you with the notes.
  3. Ask the participants about their feelings: Listen closely to what they went through during the exercise. You will notice the different reactions and realisations. That input is invaluable for you as a facilitator to go on with the discussion. Sometimes the participants are so amazed they need time to stay calm and reflect about what had just happened, especially when one of the topics was revealing for the team. Maybe a relaxation exercise is handy here, if necessary.

C. Sharing thoughts (10-15 minutes per topic)

  1. Post the cards on the wall and vote: Tell them to vote prioritising the situations according to what they consider critical to address now for the team.
  2. Select the topics: The most 2 or 3 voted topics will be discussed in pairs or mini teams of 3 or 4 people, according to the time left for the retrospective.
  3. Discuss: Start by the most voted one first. Set the time for discussion. Let the conversation begin!

D. Taking action: (15-20 minutes)

  1. Share results: After each topic discussion, share their opinions, proposals, options and work to find the next steps to follow.
  2. Make a commitment: The result may be an experiment to try: set the hypothesis, metrics, who will be accountable, and time to check again.

Powerful questions:

  • How does this topic make you feel?
  • Do the other team members feel the same? Why?
  • How can you contribute a solution to the situation you have just found?
  • What could we do to improve this particular subject?
  • Is there anything else creating this perception?
  • Where can we start? Who else can we involve in the solution?
  • Why is this important for the team?

Additional tips, comments and alternatives:

  • It is very important to find the right questions/statements for the team to elicit reflection, especially when you already know the situation, and they can’t see it yet.
  • Questions and statements are good for The participants tend to repeat them in their heads, so they get to their feelings and act accordingly.
  • Follow a defined format, questions or statements. Following all at the same time might be confusing.
  • Choose a maximum of 10 topics to avoid losing focus.
  • The topics can be technical, human, process or product related; there are no limits here. You could even use this dynamic for an agility assessment, where the statements or questions are related to the agile principles.
  • It has been very useful to me during facilitation in almost any case, with people; talkative or shy, who were new or had been working together for several years, who weren’t participating too much lately in the retros, and so on.

Special thanks

Thanks Vasco Duarte for bringing up the subject in your podcast: Scrum Master Toolbox

About Carolina Gorosito


Carolina is a natural connector and team enabler, great at finding people’s strengths and helping them combine their skills to become high performers in the organisations and obtain better results every day. She currently works as an Agile Coach and is a dedicated Creative Change Agent, specialised in problem solving and communication.

You can link with Carolina Gorosito on LinkedIn and connect with  Carolina Gorosito on Twitter.

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