At a recent users group meeting, I heard about a retrospective activity someone created. It wasn't an activity I would use as described (which is why I'm not more specific about who and where), but I thought it had possibilities. It's based on the idea of asking team members to write thoughts on index cards anonymously.

I've seen a number of variations on this theme. One I've led many times at the start of a retrospective I call "Sense of the Room" (included below).

This new activity lends itself to the Gathering Data focus of a retrospective. For want of a better title (I'm open to suggestions), I've called it "Anonymous Cards," an activity to use when the team experienced significant contention or controversy during the iteration or release, and the retrospective leader suspects team members may not speak honestly in public about the issues.

After Setting the Stage for an iteration or release retrospective, hand out three cards to each team member. Ask them to print (keeps the handwriting anonymous) on the cards the three events or issues, that came up during the iteration or release, that they personally consider the most important to discuss in the retrospective, one event or issue per card. If they have fewer than three in mind, they can leave cards blank. When they've completed their cards, ask them to place all three face down in a pile.

As retrospective leader, pick up the cards, shuffle them thoroughly without looking at them, then deal them out three at a time to each team member. While you write the events and issues on the flip chart, ask each team member to read one card then go around the group. When everyone has read one card, go around again. Repeat until you've captured all the cards on the flipchart. As you chart the items, indicate how many times each is mentioned.

Debrief the activity by asking each team member to respond to two questions:

  1. Which of these items, if dealt with successfully, would have the greatest positive impact on the team?
  2. As you look at the items, where would you personally like to put your energy?

Then ask the team, "Who will step forward to convene a group to work on one of these items?" As one person steps forward to take responsibility, ask who will work with him or her. Continue until everyone has an item to address.

Here's the bonus:

"Sense of the Room" - To Set the Stage, the retrospective leader shows two flip charted lists to the group. One list has a large index card of one color (e.g., salmon) with "Feelings" printed on it as a title and a list of >12<24 words that describe typical emotional responses below it. The other has a different colored large index card (e.g. green) with "Needs" printed on it and a list of words below. I compiled my lists starting from the feelings and needs lists on the Nonviolent Communication website.

I hand out one of each color index card to each participant and ask them to print a word that describes how they feel about and what they need from the retrospective. I collect the cards, shuffle them thoroughly and hand them back out to the group, so that each person has one of each color index card, but they are no longer holding their own card. We go around the group with each person reading the word on their "feelings" card while I write the words on a flip chart and indicate how many times a word comes up. Then we do the same with the "needs" cards. The two lists of the feelings and needs present on the team provide a sense of the team climate and desired outcomes. I debrief the activity by asking people in the group what they notice about the lists and how they think these feelings and needs might affect the retrospective process. Sometimes this leads to creating working agreements for the time we're together.