Retrospective Storytelling, a #RFG19 Session

It’s been a long while since I wrote… Well that is not entirely true; I’ve been writing a considerable amount on Excella’s Insights. It’s about time I returned to a post on my own blog.

I had the honor of attending the Retrospective Facilitator’s Gathering this past week with 19 others. I was invited by my friend George Dinwiddie. He invited me several years ago and checked in most years, but it just never worked out until this year. This is a week long Open Space event that began under Norm Kerth. It’s a wonderful community.

I held a session on Storytelling in Retrospectives. I wasn’t very good at keeping notes as the stories were too good 😉 This is my attempt to capture my memories of the session in the hopes it may help others.

I kicked off the session by establish the purpose of understanding techniques and their uses of storytelling in Retrospectives. I started with sharing how I use Dixit cards. I utilize these beautiful cards in two ways. The first is for check-ins and similarly for quick end-of class/workshop/conferences (that I run) retros where people select a card, share the card they selected and explain why they selected. It gives them a complex metaphor to explain. The longer retros I have run anchor this same selection, explain why, but ask people to go into the details of the card and how they represent what they have encountered over the period of time the retro is covering. I ask the others to listen to this story and capture the pertinent items (positive or negative events/issues) from the storyteller. This has the effect of getting people to truly focus and be present. The storyteller isn’t busy trying to do this capture and there is an interesting side effect; because people have their own points of view, these get captured into their notes. The cards are beautiful and most can be interpreted in both positive and negative ways.

Aino told us how she has used Rory’s Story Cubes to invite people to tell stories in a similar fashion. Kim mentioned that she has also done that and also how she has had people silently draw a story together, this digressed in a bit of how improv can be used to tell a story of a particular event and outcome with half the people being the audience and the other half being participants. For a little humor, while still keeping a storyline, this can be a silent improve. This does indeed lighten things up.

The drawing together reminds me an Art Gallery retro where different people that work together draw/diagram how they see the work processes from their point of view. This was a cool technique I learned at Problem Solving Leadership. You end up effectively telling stories as well.

Ainsley mentioned that storytelling has been a consistent topic that appeared at RFG since the early ones.

Somewhere along the line, I mentioned I like to close retros on occasion with the Hero’s Journey; “Once upon a time…”, “Until…”, “Then…”, “Happily ever after…”. The Until is/are the root-causes that created problems for the team, where the Then is the retrospective’s actions. Only if they put these actions into play can someone see the Happily Ever After part.

As Diana and George arrived in our session they reminded that in many ways, any activity we do is a story being told. Sometimes with data, sometimes by people… And even the arc of the Retrospective creates a story.

Towards the end, I wanted to run an idea I had thought of for a Retrospective. I call this the Newspaper Retro. Newspaper articles tell stories based on facts. So my thoughts were to let people in a retro individually brainstorm onto (probably larger) sticky notes news articles of 1-5 sentences about various aspects of what went well or didn’t go well. Everything should be based on fact. These get categorized the following news sections:

  • Politics are all articles about team collaboration
  • Technology is all about tool usage
  • Business is all about the process
  • Science is about new discoveries or learning the team has made
  • Foreign Affairs is all about things external to the team
  • The Nation is the section devoted to things about management

After the initial creation of stories, the team would come together and combine like stories. This is where multiple perspectives now are coming together. Finally, they prioritize the 1-3 that will appear to be on the front page and then create the planned elements or experiments that will be done to correct these (or amplify them if they are positive).

The group seemed to like this idea for a retro; just realize it is untested at the point of this writing. If you decide to try this, I’d LOVE to hear how it went! I will be looking for a time to use this, but as we know context is important, so I don’t want to use it with a team where it wouldn’t fit.

Shortly after this, we closed… I am certain I forgot some stuff, so I hope attendees will chime in and remind me of what was forgotten.