Linked In:https://www.linkedin.com/in/jay-allen-morris-26bb4643/ Twitter:@JayAllenM
The idea for this retrospective came from specific problems the team was having and, of course, from my obsession with Lego. I can’t credit this idea only to me because I think I picked up parts of it from talks and workshops I’ve attended over the years. I never thought it would be universal, but I shared the idea with someone else and they had the same positive result.
Problems that lead to this:
The communication in the team was broken, they weren’t working as a team, stronger personalities would often overtake the quieter ones and not listen to them. There was lots of silo work going on. All of this had been going on for a while and these issues weren’t coming up in retrospectives. I tried to think about how the team could gain awareness of their behaviour without me explicitly pointing it out as “wrong”. I came up with this Lego retrospective idea, not knowing if it would work but decided to experiment. Below is a description of what you’ll need to try it out for yourself, feel free to make alternative suggestions for improvements.
- Mix of lego, the more random the better
- Pen and paper for the observer to write stuff done
- A large table for the team to play
- Markers and flip chart paper for the team to plan
This particular activity needed the assistance from an outside observer, I didn’t want to use someone from inside the team because I wanted the whole team to participate.
NB. I asked for the team’s permission beforehand to use an external observer and since this person was close to the team, it did not interfere with their safe space. If you do not have such a person then it might be better for the facilitator to be the observer, although it might be tricky to do both.
Summary of activity:
Get the team to work together to create a Lego construction and have the observer write down the team’s interactions with each other and the activity.
Opening the Box: You can use any check-in exercise to set the scene for the retro, helping them focus on the last sprint
Finding the Right Pieces: I explained to the team that this was the section where our observer would come into play and for the most part, she is to be ignored. Then the fun began.
They had 10 minutes to discuss and plan what they were going to build based on what they had in front of them. Then I gave them 30-40 minutes to build something that represented their last sprint with the Lego they had in front of them, with no restrictions on what they could build, the only rule was that they had to build one thing as a team. The reason I did this was so that they had to communicate as a team and create something that represented all of their experiences.
During this section the observer is jotting down observations and interactions, her role will come into play a bit later.
Once the time was up they had to review what they had done and have a mini retro explaining what they learned.
They ended up building a space prison with the heads of the prisoners on spikes, lasers shooting down visiting ships and a solitary confinement chamber. You can only imagine what was going on there. During their mini retro they highlighted the negative things with the sprint based on what they had built.
Connecting the Bricks: Now for the cool part. I said to the team the observer will merely read out what she had written down and observed. Examples of things she wrote down were:
- Andy always interrupts Arnold
- Isla speaks up but everyone ignores her
- Rachel tries to get everyone back on track but get’s spoken over
- Arnold broke away and started building his own thing
- Andy gave everyone clear directions on what do
- No one really listened to anyone else
What’s very important is that the observer did not make any judgements about the team’s behaviour she merely read back to them what they had done.
What was great was seeing the team nodding in agreement in what was read out and in my opinion hearing it in an objective way gave them insights into their own behaviour that they might not have noticed.
We then had a discussion around some of the things they were aware of and some of the things that surprised them. Some of the insights that came out were:
- They weren’t finishing sprint work because they weren’t communicating effectively and also not respecting what each other had to say
- They weren’t completing stories because they weren’t working together as a team nor communicating effectively with the product owner
- The realised traits about their own behaviour that were hindering their success as a team
Pick a Brick: They had a long list of improvements that they could change. The thing they decided to work on first was their communication with each other. They came up with suggestions on how to do that better (including not interrupting each other!). Everyone was an owner of this and we agreed to check in at next retro.
We kept the list as a reminder of the observations that came up and to be used in the future to see where we are going.
“Everything is awesome, everything is cool when you’re part of a team”
We closed the retro off with thanking someone in the team for something they had done or just for being the way they are.
Despite the earlier anger and frustration represented in the space prison, the retrospective ended on a positive note 🙂