As Scrum Master, we might have opinions or prejudice about our own teams’ ways of working. This might not be the case when facilitating a retrospective as an outsider. This helps us not only help our own teams in becoming agile but also the organization in its Agile journey. If you've been a Scrum Master of a team for a long time, you probably have a good understanding of how the team works and as a result, you may become judgmental. There can be all kinds of conscious and unconscious assumptions that may result in unintentionally trying to steer the conversion or present themes that you feel the team needs to uncover more than what the team believes they need to discuss.
I recently facilitated a Ways of Working workshop for a Product Team along with a fellow Scrum Master. This was an out-of-the-box retrospective organized by the Scrum Master community. This was our first time holding a workshop for this group. We had no idea how this team worked, and yet there we were, ready to lead a session. Not knowing the ways of working for this team kept us from making assumptions and passing judgment. It was a blank slate for us as facilitators, as well as a shift for the team who were unfamiliar with our approach. The team and we as facilitators were both in exploration mode, with no preconceived notions.
How did it all begin?
I was ready to jump at this opportunity alongside my fellow Scrum Master colleague after receiving a casual ping asking if we were interested in facilitating a retrospective workshop. After accepting this offer we began thinking about the workshop’s structure, the duration for time boxing the event, and activities that may allow the team to relax, have fun together, and uncover potential possibilities to improve the ways of working.
The workshop was scheduled for a 90-minute in-person session (8 participants + 2 facilitators) with two sections of 40-minutes each. We tried to create a mix of fun activities to keep the mood light and some brainstorming activities to get that dialogue within the team going. Given the nature of the activities we were preparing and keeping in mind the 90 minute timebox, we decided to send the team a starter kit, asking them to prepare for parts of it ahead of time.
After two years of virtual events, this in-person event was challenging in a way that we were supposed to use physical tools rather than virtual tools. This may seem simple, but it presented its own set of challenges and opportunities: Preparing the physical space for the event, gathering all necessary resources, printing out event materials, making stationery available, and sharing the space not only mentally but also physically.
Section 1 — 40min
- Write your Intentions (10 min) – Every team member was instructed to write on sticky notes what they intended to get out of the workshop, which was then hung on the wall. After a short check-in to make sure everyone is on the same page, they were asked to share it with the rest of the group.
- Art gallery (5 min) – This is a fun activity that always excites the group. Each participant was given a blank sheet of paper and instructed to form pairs. The objective was for each person in the pair to draw a portrait of the other without looking down at the paper. You have to look away from the paper and draw.
- Ways of working visualization (25 min) – This was added to the starting kit, and team members were invited to visualize and draw the way they wanted to operate. The team was expected to prepare for this beforehand. We weren’t looking for the best artists; instead, we wanted them to draw what they believe is the ideal way to work. When you first hear about this exercise, it may seem abstract, but give it some time and thoughts will begin to emerge. After that, all of the diagrams were collected and hung on the wall. Everyone was asked to tell a story about their drawing. This automatically sparked a conversation. They started agreeing on one other’s points of view, challenging assumptions, and attempting to understand each other’s perspectives. The second step consisted of selecting segments from each visualization and establishing a team-wide agreement on how to work. The team also made certain revisions to the designs, using them as opportunities to improve the specific ways of working. For example, one of the visualizations had an ocean and islands, with each island representing a different team member. To connect these islands, the team drew bridges and speedboats. Islands, bridges, and speedboats were chosen as part of the common working drawing style.
We didn’t redraw; instead, we ticked the parts of each visualization that the team agreed would make up part of the common way of working.
- Break (5 min)
Section 2 — 40 min
- Think-out-of-the-box (10 min) – This exercise was canceled at the last minute since the conversation on ways of working visualization grew too long, and we ended up spending 35 to 40 minutes on it.
Always remember to have a strategy while facilitating, but be ready to adapt it based on the needs of the audience/participants.
- Stinky Fish (25 min) – This again was part of the starter kit. The stinky fish is a metaphor for “that thing that you carry around but don’t like to talk about , but the longer you hide it, the stinkier it gets.” By putting “stinky fish” on the table, participants can relate to each other, get more comfortable sharing, and uncover areas for learning and development. Each member of the team was asked to describe their stinky fish. After that, the fish were classified and grouped. We were able to identify three groups, which led to the discovery of three possible areas for improvement. The team was divided into three groups, each of which was given one of the identified subjects to discuss. Each group was given a sheet of paper with three instructions on it.
- What – Topic.
- So What – Specify the prospective areas for development.
- Now What – Suggestions for improvements.
We had intended to use voting to ask the team to prioritize the themes and select the top two or three for discussion. Once the stinky fish were placed on the table, we were able to quickly identify concerns that could be grouped. As a result, we skipped the voting process and just categorized the subjects for discussion.
- Circle of Awesomeness (5 min) – The closing circle. The team was asked to stand in a circle close to each other. They were asked to specify one positive thing about the person on their left in 30 seconds and a single clap.
The workshop ended with some laughter when we handed over the art gallery sheet, seeing each other's portraits which were drawn without looking at the paper. There was a positive vibe in the room and the team enjoyed those 90 minutes of uncovering the possibilities to improve the way of working.
The work was not yet done for Scrum Masters. We took quick notes during the entire session to pull out interesting facts, questions, and thoughts that the team members shared during these discussions. An online board was prepared to add these drawings, photos, and stickies which we later handed over to the team.
As facilitators, our purpose was to provide the Product Team a platform and a framework that might help them identify opportunities for improving their way of working, NOT to find solutions.
What happens next is up to the team. If they decide to take the next step to improve, it might amaze them.
Focus on the outcome – When determining which activity to do or which question to ask, think about what will be the outcome. What value will it provide?
This was a fantastic learning opportunity for me, and facilitating it with another Scrum Master was fun because we both got to hear some fresh and intriguing ideas. We experimented with new activities. The nicest element of this relationship was that we both trusted each other and were agile enough to adjust the path during the event. We made a lot of runtime modifications, and I don’t think the team realized it. They just went with the flow.
Have you attended or facilitated any similar workshops? If so, please share your experience and let me know your thoughts on the retrospective workshop, “Ways of Working.”