3 engaging retrospective ideas for distributed teams

It’s not that easy. It is not an easy thing to find retrospective ideas for distributed teams. 

Get out of the everyday life 

As a Scrum Master and psychologist, I love retrospective ideas for distributed teams that get team members out of the daily routines. That let them look at things from a different angle.

And just for you, I have summarized 3 retrospective ideas for distributed teams. The three ideas are fun and a little crazy, unusual. But – they work in distributed teams!

Retrospective ideas for distributed teams 1: Taboo 

The first retrospective idea for distributed teams is probably best to use as check-in. A check-in that focuses on the fun factor. And that encourages reflection and thought.

Probably some of you know the fun game: Taboo. 

The principle is simple. A person from the team – for example Max – explains a term orally. The rest of the team has to guess which term Max is explaining.

For each correctly guessed term the team gets one point. You could also divide the team into two sub-teams, which compete against each other.

The difficulty here is that Max is not allowed to use certain other terms that are closely related to the word.

For example, Max should explain the word “sprint”. But he is not allowed to use the following words: 2 weeks, scrum, daily, 100m, fast…

If he would use any of these words in his explanation – ups! Then the team does not receive a point and Max has to explain the next word.

The procedure

This is how I would design the retrospective idea for distributed teams.

  1. Firstly, you should think about terms as the facilitator (Scrum Master, Agile Coach, Product Owner…). Terms that could serve to prepare the team for the later topics of the retrospective.

The terms can be relatively broad, dealing with the context of teams. Or they can refer to “softer” factors such as communication or failure culture. Depending on what was most noticeable in the last sprint. 

I have listed 10 ideas for you here – from the areas “Sprint” and “Meta-Topics”.

Before the colon is the term that needs to be explained. Behind the colon are the words that must not be used in the explanation. You are also welcome to add some!

 

Daily: 15 minutes, team members, Every day/daily, communication…

Scrum Master: supervisor, manager, retrospective, impediment, coach

Continuous improvement: better, worse, continuous, reflection, action, regular

Sprint Review: revision, 2 weeks, Scrum, event, end

Definition of Done: Done, Finish, Ticket, Sprint, Review

Bug: error, software, insect, system, develop

Failure: Wrong, right, problem, culture, costs

Gratitude: work, thanks, positive, helpful, feeling

Communication: Speaking, talking, conversation, information, exchange

Team: Group, System, We, People, Individuals, members

 

It is recommended that you think about terms that fit your team and the last sprint.

  1. Within the retrospective, things now become a little complicated at the beginning. You have to communicate the terms to one person in the team. But the terms must not be perceived by the others.

At best, you can send them to the person privately via chat. 

Alternatively, you can ask everyone to look away or to participate via audio only while showing it via video. During this time you could then start with the explanation.

If you have formed two teams, it would of course be sufficient if only one half turns off its video function or takes the screen out of sight.

You as Scrum Master are responsible for stopping the time, for example 40 seconds, during which a person is allowed to explain the terms.

You also have to check if the person is not using the wrong terms during those 40 seconds.

  1. Either when all your ready-made terms are explained, or when everyone has had their turn, the game ends. Whoever has explained the most terms (team or individual) wins. 

By the way, if you are more concerned with the fun factor and less with reflecting on the right terms… 

You can also simply use ready-made terms. Online Taboo can be played for example via this link. You would then only have to share your screen with the corresponding person or team.

Let’s get to the next retrospective idea for distributed teams.

 

Retrospective ideas for distributed teams 2: Online Retro Tools

Why not use what is already existing? There are countless tools that can help you find and perform retrospective ideas for distributed teams. That’s what they are designed for. And many of them are free.

I’m thinking of Retrium and Funretro, for example. My personal favorite is clear. 

Because… Since I had the strong feeling that you can get much more out of Retro Tools, I teamed up with a software developer and business guy. And together we developed our own retrospective tool.

It is called Echometer. The focus of the tool is to help you conduct interactive, fun retrospectives, that are also supported from a psychological perspective. The tool is also designed to help you measure your successes of your team development better.

CriteriaEchometerRetriumTeam RetroFun RetroParabol
Interactive online retrospectives
Automatic summary of past retros
Guidance for Moderation (Check-In Generator etc.)⚠️ Partly⚠️ Partly
Team-Templates for every maturity level⚠️ Partly⚠️ Partly
Continuous action item tracking (retro to retro)⚠️ Partly⚠️ Partly
Measurability of team development over time⚠️ Partly
Asynchronous feedback gathering before retro
Organizational KPIs for Health Check
Item-Pool with psychological nudges
Data Protection (developed and hosted in Europe)

And save time at the same time. If you want to use it, you can test it for free following this link and use it in your next retrospective. 

More information on the tool and a comparison to others is find right here.

Retrospective ideas for distributed teams 3: Black Stories – Remote Edition

The next of the retrospective ideas for distributed teams will really stimulate creativity. And will certainly provide a laugh or two.

It is also particularly suitable for a fun online check-in to invite your team to a creative session. I am talking about Black Stories. 

What are black stories?

Black stories are “yes-no puzzles”. One must guess as a group – on the basis of minimal information – what happened. And typically… something terrible has happened. Which is why it’s called Black Story.

The only thing you can do to find out what happend, is to ask “yes-no questions”.

An example of a Black Story: a diver lies dead in his office. What happened?

Again, the best thing to do is to adapt this to your everyday life. Here are four ideas which Black Stories you could use remotely and in an office context.

    • After the last sprint, John fell motionless into a hole of darkness.
  • Explanation: John is a Lego figure. It was used during a Lego Series Play sprint to teach beginners the Scrum framework. After the sprint John ended up in the Lego box again. The box is completely sealed – a hole of darkness.
    •  
    • A diver is lying dead in the office building. What happened?
  • Explanation: The diver was taken by a fire-fighting plane from a near lake on accident (actually, it was planned to ship only water). Accidentally, the plane dropped the water above the office building (which is right next to the burning forest) – and not above the forest itself.
    •  
    • Two Product Owners (or Agile Coaches, Scrum Masters, CEOs…) find a tube in a meadow. Both look into the opposite ends. The tube is not very long, not clogged and straight. Nevertheless, the two cannot see each other. Why?
  • They look into the tube at different times.
    •  
    • (For soccer fans) After a physical confrontation, a duel is fought. One of the two duelists is shot in the head. However, the one who is hit remains uninjured and is even happy. How?
  • A foul (in soccer) was commited, followed by a penalty kick. The goalkeeper holds the ball with his head and is happy to have prevented the goal.

The procedure

I recommend the following procedure to make the best use of a Blackstories for your retrospective for distributed teams.

  1. At the beginning of the retrospective for distributed teams, you share the riddle.

Anyone on the team can ask a yes-no question. For example: Did the whole thing happen at night?

If the answer is no, it’s the next person in the round to ask a question.

You as the facilitator are usually the only one who knows the right answer. 

Theoretically, you could also form two teams and virtually compete against each other (with two different Black Stories). Whoever solves a puzzle first – or with fewer questions – wins.

The advantage of two teams: Usually you also have a lot of fun just listening to how the current solution hypotheses of the opposing team go into the wrong direction…

You can end the game when you have guessed the term. Or, for the purposes of time boxing: you can only ask 10 questions in all.

Then the team has to come up with a clever question strategy – always a good exercise.

Or you can specify that the game only lasts 10 minutes in total.

The nice thing about the game is that you can also play it with a lot of players or in large groups.

Conclusion

It is not so easy to find retrospective ideas for distributed teams. With the three different approaches here I hope I met your taste!

By the way, as a psychologist I have published a free eBook on a very similar topic: “12 retrospective ideas from psychology“.

Some of them can undoubtedly be done remotely, too.

In it I have explained and presented many workshops from the field of psychology in order to develop successful and less successful teams in a highly targeted way. You can find more information and the download of it following this link.

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