How do you help a team reflect on learning and change over a long timeframe? I recently facilitated a retrospective for a team that had deployed to production after six months of development effort. Over that time, the team membership changed, impediments were discovered, and new technologies were learned. From the outside looking in, I sensed it had been a long and bumpy journey for the team. To help them reflect upon that journey, I first asked what they wanted to get out of the retrospective: the consensus was improvement items for themselves and learnings to share with other teams that are on similar technology journeys.
With the goal of the retrospective clarified, we were ready to move into the next retro activity. I asked them to imagine that the team was a spaceship. The spaceship had just completed its mission. I tasked the team members to individually draw pictures of their spaceship. What does it look like now? How damaged is it? What upgrades did it receive in its journey? Drawing took nearly 15 minutes as individuals added more details and iterated on their designs. Keeping with the creative spirit, I asked the team members to reveal their pictures on the count of three while also making the sound of their spaceship landing. It helped maintain a light and open tone as we then looked for commonalities across the images. We captured the similar themes on the whiteboard and further processed what they meant for the team.
As a facilitator, I noticed areas that the team spent a lot of time discussing and others that did not get mentioned; my role involved inquiring about the unspoken topics that seemed to be in their blindspots. Retrospectives on longer timeframes—even when a team has regular retrospectives—need an objective facilitator to notice what’s being said and what’s not being said to help the group gain a fuller understanding and learn.
A simple metaphor of a spaceship finishing a mission unpacked a lot of ideas and assumptions about their experience as a team delivering a project, and we could use it to talk about what future capabilities would be desired or future missions—the possibilities are endless on how this retrospective can be adapted to your teams!