Few years ago I got invited to attend RFG16 (Retrospective Facilitators Gathering ‘16) in Portugal. It is hard to describe such an event, but the simple description would be that it is a week long unconference [wiki]. A limited group of 30 wonderful people comes together to share their bright minds about continuous improvement as well as facilitation.
Second week of March I’ve spend a week at RFG18. I love to take opportunities like these to sharpen my skills on designing and facilitating scaled retrospectives. The attendants are often open-minded towards experimentation and it helps the next organizers to make the event even better. Added benefit is that I volunteered to be one of the organizers for the next edition of RFG in Europe in 2020!
Every year the event switches between Europe and America, and I was lucky enough that in 2018 it took place in my home country at Noordwijk, Netherlands. Being in a different place and context for a week, still made it feel like I was on vacation abroad.
There is way too much to share about what I got out of the week, so the focus of this blogpost will be on the scaled monster retro I designed together with @Toby Baier and @Silvana Wasitova. To get people in a creative mindset when trying to come up with improvements, I prefer to design retro’s which have a strong theme with some storytelling. The version I’ll share with you below is a combination of how we hoped it would go, what we actually ran and what came out of the evaluation (retroception) to do differently next time.
Header image by AnimeVeteran on DeviantArt. On the right the good Dr. Jekyll and on the left the bad Mr. Hyde.
Full action during phase 3 below.
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
Retro phases: all 5; 1-Set the Stage, 2-Gather Data, 3-Generate Insights, 4-Decide What to Do, 5-Close the Retro
Focus: Product, Process
Group size: ~30 (can scale down to one team or up to 60 people, if italicized facilities, numbers and timings are adjusted)
Safety needed: 2/5
Fun & energy: 5/5
Theme: Fantasy, Monster, Dancing
When to use?
Big event, project or timespan where people have interacted on a regular basis. Although I would consider this a full-blown retro, there is no looking back at the previous action item(s). In contrast with a proper team retro which I would recommend to produce just one or a few actionable outcomes, this can produce 10+. Instead of putting the action items on top of the backlog, they are assigned to chasers or for the organizers/leads to take into account for next time. Feel free to edit these instructions to fit broader purposes.
Facilities needed (~30p)
- 1 main facilitator (can’t contribute)
- 5 Flipover sheets
- Large enough room to hang up 4 flips and have room for a small team to stand around each one
- Each flip will need one facilitator (which can contribute) in phase 3 and 4
- 2 printed/drawn visuals of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
- Enough post-it’s and markers for all attendees
- Speaker and device to play audio
- Bell, chime, or another auditory/visual timer
Phase 1 > Monster Dance
1-Set the Stage
Just setting the stage for the rest of the blogpost. This retro will be a thriller!
- Break up the group in subgroups of 4-6 people
- In the subgroup the first person comes up with a short ‘monster move’ (like stretching your arms forward and tilting your head)
- Second person in the subgroup repeats the first move and adds another move of his/her own
- Third person in the subgroup repeats the first and second moves and adds the third
- Continue till every person in each subgroup has repeated all previous moves and added a new one
- Instruct the subgroup to practice their timing a bit after they added their last move
- Ask each subgroup to show off two rounds of their monster moves. Do this on the beat of the music (step 1.9) to the rest of the group one by one
- After the last group do one final round where the whole group ‘dances’ at the same time
- <Prepare> Start Thriller by Michael Jackson [Spotify], let the intro play for added effect or jump right in after ~35 secs
- No need to finish the whole song, it is mainly to get energized. Feel free to do so if the group is into it
This will get people out of whatever was occupying their mind beforehand and into the right mindstate to think out of the box for the retro.
Phase 2 > Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
Dr. Henry Jekyll feels he is battling between the good and bad within himself, thus leading to the struggle with his alter ego, Edward Hyde. He spends his life trying to repress evil urges that are not fitting for a man of his stature. He develops a serum in an attempt to mask this hidden evil. However, in doing so, Jekyll transforms into Hyde, a hideous creature without compassion or remorse. Jekyll has a friendly personality, but as Hyde, he becomes mysterious and violent. As time goes by, Hyde grows in power and eventually manifests whenever Jekyll shows signs of physical or moral weakness, no longer needing the serum to be released.
- Introduce the story of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde as a metaphor that every event/project has two sides. In contrast with the demise of Dr. Jekyll we’ll do our best to overcome the bad things and thus have more of the good things
- <Prepare> Hang up duo flipover sheets next to each other on the wall and hang the image of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde [web] across both. In order to give meaning to the the ‘Good’ side (Dr. Jekyll) and the ‘Bad’ side (Mr. Hyde) add or explain tags which go along with both ends. We‘ll start using these flips from step 2.7
- [2m] Everyone silently writes down points which they thought were awesome (Good side) and some which weren’t (Bad side)
- [3m] Then pair up with a neighbor to both share your best points and decide which points are good enough for the next round
- [5m] Combine with a pair next to you to get 4 people. Both pairs share their top points and collectively decide which are the best ones
- Let someone from each subgroup of 4 share 3 to 4 points back to the whole group
- While sharing let them distribute those points among the available posters, plotting them on the Good or Bad side
Now you’ll have multiple duo flips, which show the Good and Bad sides of the thing you’re evaluating.
*1-2-4-All (from Liberating Structures) has shorter timings and advises to repeat rounds or the whole format if needed, here we deliberately added one minute to each phase.
Phase 3 > Exaggerate & Blow Up
- With the scissors cut the images in half to visually split Good and Bad
- Ask the facilitators to each take a flipover sheet with one half picture to a different corner
- Ask the group to equally divide among the corners, trying to create different subgroups from phase 2
- [10m] Now each subgroup gets to fantasize what it looks like if the points on their flip would be taken to the extreme. So half of the groups will do this for the Good points, other half for the Bad points
At this point you’ll have a high energy group which produced hilarious and absurd examples of both utopian situations and horrendous ones. You’ll notice that most groups actually need around 10m to get to the weird and extreme stuff.
Phase 4 > Science Prevails
4-Decide What to Do
- Let the same subgroups as phase 3 rotate (counter-)clockwise to the next flip, so each group has switched from Good to Bad or vice versa. Only each facilitator stays with their previous flip
- They subgroups need to come up with experiments to run which help the utopian Good situations become real and which avoid the horrendous Bad situations from becoming a reality. This resembles the battle of Dr. Jekyll experimenting on himself to overcome his Bad alter ego
- [10m] Each subgroup will brainstorm experiments. The facilitator introduces the extremes that the previous group came up with. Try to make the experiments as actionable as humanly possible
- [2m] Each subgroup decides on their top 3 experiments
- Let the subgroups share them with the whole group
- Collect and combine those top 3’s on a central flipover sheet for everyone to see the outcome
- <Optional> Assign action chasers to the items
As a result you’ll end up with 10+ experiments which you can run for the better. Be aware how much preparation some might need. Consider if it is a wise idea to run them all at once.
Example of split flips, the top 3 experiments have been taken off already.
Phase 5 > Appreciation Waltz
5-Close the Retro
Cooling down walk
- <Prepare> Put on some relaxing classical(?) music, we used some Vienna Waltz [Spotify]
- Ask people to walk around silently, exchanging affirmations and appreciations in a non-vocal way; think of winks, smiles, nods, handshakes, hugs or other facial expressions, hand signs and body language
- No need to finish the whole song, but feel free. It is mainly to clear the mind and relax if there is still high energy
This was kind of a closing for the whole unconference. Would still consider something like this in another context. It helps the group to become calm again and go on afterwards. Also it’s powerful to end on a positive note.
Notes from the brainstorm and evaluation of the retro.
This is the first full retrospective I’ve shared on my blog. Would love to get some feedback on how readable, understandable and/or reproduceable you find it. This will help me determine if I should share more retro formats (both full designs and modular parts) and how I should do so.
Thanks if you read this far, hope to hear from you if you found this in any way valuable.
! NOTE: I discovered my blog template only supports numbered list and not alphabetized ones. This means the green drawings don’t refer to the steps now. Just count a=1, b = 2, c = 3, etc if you want to connect the drawings to the steps.