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Games for opening and closing a retrospective

Iratxe Kaltzakorta

Iratxe Kaltzakorta

Table of Contents

The word “retrospective” comes from the Latin “retrospectus“, which means “looking back“. It is a moment when we stop to reflect on how things have been done and decide what to do to improve them.  

There are countless ways to carry out these reflections: it can be done individually or in a group by having a conversation. Although it is not always easy, help should be sought from tools or people who facilitate these reflections.   

I would be one of these people since I design sessions for the teams I help. I rely on what I learned from Diana Larsen and Esther Derby. They are the co-authors of the book “Agile Retrospectives: Making good teams great”, and in it, they explain that retrospectives are divided into 5 phases:

  1. Set the stage: set the goal, and prepare people to be in the right frame of mind for the rest of the session.
  2. Collect data: recall what has happened in the indicated period and add relevant information.  
  3. Inquire: look for the reasons for the things identified in the previous phase.  
  4. Decide what to do: create plans with concrete actions to try to improve what happened. 
  5. Close the retrospective: say thank you, close the meeting, look at the next steps and look for ways to improve the retrospective that has just ended.  

When I prepare a retrospective, I search for the best dynamics for each of these phases. In this case, I would like to present two dynamics, which could be used in the opening and closing phases. Both times are very important to be able to start on the right foot and close with a good feeling.  

The wheel of emotions

This dynamic is perfect for opening a retrospective. It is a key moment that is used to generate an atmosphere of trust and a safe environment to achieve a change of attitude and a more open and relaxed mentality.

As a general rule, people are used to simply saying good or bad, when the reality is that we know a lot more emotions: sadness, happiness, anger, fear, or optimism. Working on this aspect will allow people to expand the vocabulary of emotions and, therefore, identify them and act accordingly. 

For this dynamic, we use a tool created by Robert Plutchik, called “The wheel of emotions”. Its appearance is that of a flower with 8 leaves, very colorful, whose colors intensify as we approach the center of the flower. 

The wheel of emotions​

According to psychologist Robert Plutchik, there are 8 basic emotions:

  • Joy 
  • Confidence
  • Fear 
  • Surprise 
  • Sadness  
  • Aversion  
  • Anger  
  • Anticipation

Robert Plutchik

Plutchik said that they rarely occur in isolation and can be considered opposites in pairs: Joy is the opposite of Sadness, Surprise is the opposite of Anticipation, Confidence is the opposite of Aversion and Anger is the opposite of Fear. 

In addition, each of them has different degrees of intensity because they have similarities and if combined, they generate more complex feelings. 

This exercise is simple: it is a matter of choosing the emotion that each person feels at the moment. The complex part is knowing how to differentiate which emotion prevails over the rest.  

Thanks to exercises like this, you will be able to expand your vocabulary and better identify the emotions you are feeling at each moment. 

All we need is a drawing of the wheel of emotions and make a mark or place a sticker on the emotion we are feeling. 

Once everyone has selected at least one emotion, they will explain one at a time why they have chosen it. The rest of the group should listen, without judging what their partner is saying.  

This second part of the game is also quite complicated because there is not always enough confidence to speak freely. Sometimes some team members may even consider it a silly or meaningless game and boycott the session.  

A good facilitator should take this into account. If you detect similar behavior during the exercise, you should take action. My recommendation is to talk to the people who act in this way so that they understand the importance of working on their emotional intelligence. 

Movie posters

I love movies! I used to watch a movie every week on the cinema. I could choose a horror film, a spaceship film, or an animated film.  

For a while, I was working with a team that had the same hobby as me, which led me to prepare a retrospective whose central theme was cinema.  

One part that the team liked the most was the closing one. It consisted of creating posters similar to those we see in movie theaters. Its purpose was to create reminders so that the improvement actions chosen among them would be present in their daily lives.  

This exercise requires a lot of imagination. The team members must draw together a poster for each improvement action. To do so, they based themselves on the typical format of a movie poster, where the following elements are visible:  

  • Title 
  • Main image  
  • Actors and actresses   
  • Director of the film  
  • Other information of interest  
Movie posters Netmind example

Improvement actions:

Each element has a direct relationship with the improvement action so that it would look like this:  

  • The title is the action.  
  • The main image is the visual representation of the action.  
  • The actors and actresses will be in charge of carrying out the specific action.  
  • The director is the person who will see to it that the action materializes.  

A team is divided into groups of 2-3 people. The facilitator should look at how they organize themselves: if a leader makes the cast or if they are self-organized, if they are proactive or if they let themselves be carried by the rest, …  

Each group chooses a share and starts drawing the poster. Once drawn, each group will expose the details to the rest and place them near where they sit. 

This exercise can also be done remotely, using a tool similar to Miro or Mural.  

It is important to emphasize that, as facilitators, we must keep in mind that it is more important that they focus on the improvement action rather than on the creation of the poster itself. It is not about making the most eye-catching poster in the world, but about building a physical element that reminds them at all times of what they need to put in place to improve as a team.  

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About the Author

Iratxe Kaltzakorta

Iratxe Kaltzakorta

Technical Engineer in Computer Management graduated from the University of Deusto. She has almost 20 years of experience in Consulting. She is currently at Netmind, helping organizations and teams embrace change, teaching them other ways of working and always looking for continuous improvement. She believes in different forms of communicating and is passionate about gamification as part of learning. Among her certifications, she holds the Professional Scrum Master I from Scrum.org, SAFe® 5 Agilist from Scaled Agile, Inc. and Visual Mapping facilitator from Visual Mapping. In addition, she has been a volunteer and part of the core team of BAOS, Big Agile Open Space, for more than seven years and is co-founder of the first Sketchnoting community in Spain, which is about to turn 3 years old.

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