Little by little...

Little by little...

Thursday, December 6, 2012

"Ideal Team" Retro Technique

I’m really pleased with a new retro technique that I tried a few weeks ago. After over a year of floundering, the team I’m working with went through a lot of personnel changes. The remaining members seemed to have no identity of their own and I wanted to facilitate creating a shared vision for what they could potentially be.

Here’s the agenda for the hour-long retrospective. I loosely followed the format laid out by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen in Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great.

Part I - Paint a Picture of the Team We Want To Be
·      Welcome and Pick an Ideal Team               5 min             
     o    I printed and hung up photos of 3 teams: The Avengers, The Scooby Doo team, and a South Park hockey team. We went around the room and each person said which team they would prefer to be on. This served the purpose of having everyone speak at the start.
·      Describe an Ideal Team                               10 min                       
             o   The instructions were to jot down adjectives that describe an ideal team, one per post-it and then place them on the whiteboard. Examples such as “fun” and “knowledgeable” were given.
             o   We spent the last 2 minutes of this section reading the post-its aloud so everyone heard what was posted and agreed to this shared mental picture of an ideal team.
·      List Behaviors of an Ideal Team                  10 min                       
             o   Here the instructions were to write down specific behaviors of an ideal team, again one per post-it and place them on the whiteboard. I stressed that these should be things that others could observe if they walked by our team space. Examples of this were “lively discussions with coworkers,” “help external teams” and “playing music.”

Part II - Uncover the Team’s Gaps & Generate Action Items
·      Got It or Working On It                                 20 min
             o   Here was the meat of the retro. I had 2 sections drawn on the whiteboard, labeled “Got It” and “Working On It.” We read each behavior and decided whether our team was exhibiting this behavior or whether we were working on it.
             o   I chose the category names intentionally to avoid negative connotations. Most teams do not benefit from seeing a list of shortcomings and in most cases; teams really are working on these items.
·      Action Items                                                   10 min
             o   Once we identified the “Working On It” items, we decided on 2-3 behaviors that we would focus on as a team. We listed out concrete ways that we could practice these behaviors in the next iteration.
·      Close                                                               5 min
             o   I closed by letting everyone know where I would be posting our action items, confirming who would be facilitating our next retro and thanking everyone for their participation.

With a relatively small investment of time, we created a shared team image with concrete behaviors to guide us. And based on feedback that I received, the team appreciated talking about observable actions instead of ideas and intentions. Because while theories are interesting, we all know that taking action is the only way that we can learn, grow and strive to become an ideal team.


  1. Out of all the retro activities out there, this is the most pragmatic I've seen. It seeks out improvements explicitly without much hand waving.

  2. "Most teams do not benefit from seeing a list of shortcomings and in most cases; teams really are working on these items."

    And when they're not? This is a gentle prompt. Good call.

  3. Thanks very much! I ran this retro and it worked fantastically. It had a positive feel, and there were lots of great action items.
    Have you put this on Tasty Cupcakes or other retro sites so people can find it?

    1. I'm so glad you found it helpful! :) I will look into posting it somewhere more accessible. Thanks for the suggestion!