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Resilient Retrospective at NYC Scrum User Group

Updated: May 11, 2020

"Fist of five" - show me to what extent has this retrospective resonated with you?

Third annual World Retrospective Day happened to come at the wrong time. Escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic in NYC, uncertainties of the economy and the job market, isolation of the lockdown. No longer we were able to gather together in a large room for this event.

How might we keep the spirit of the event and celebrate one of the most important Agile practices - a Retrospective? How might we still connect with local user group and carry on a friendly, casual "Learning while having fun" vibe of New York Scrum User group?

By switching to a virtual format, would we end up with an additional complexity of connecting and retrospecting with our global guests (some of whom we've never met before)? What would it do to the even dynamic?

As organizers, we had all these and many other questions, while preparing for our March 26 meetup. What really helped to pull this all together were the experiments I got a change to participate in as part of the Liberating Structures community!

Here is a quick snippet of the event we ended up creating.

Inspiration for this workshop

One of the goals of World Retrospective Day was to teach others about the effectiveness of well-designed and well-facilitated retrospective. For that reason I aligned the 5-steps retrospective framework from Diana Larsen and Esther Derby's book with a sequence (or a String) of Liberating Structures.

If you are not familiar with Liberating Structures, they are a collection of 33 facilitation techniques, inspired by complexity science, collected, distilled to a succinct set and made available to the community by Henry Lipmanowicz and Keth McCandless. The beauty of Liberating Structures is in their ability to evoke, unleash collaboration in groups of any size in order to help deal with uncertainty and a profound challenge.

Our Theme

It's been a tough time for all of us. For this very reason, I wanted to shift conversations towards something positive. How can we recognise an opportunity, help recreate connectedness and boost our collective mood that evening?

We play-tested a few options and finally settled on the theme:

"Working from home during quarantine". How can we emerge from it stronger, more resilient and more creative as a community?

Workshop Design Board

Set the Stage

Step 0 - we had a basic tools warmup to learn about some Zoom features were were about to start using (Chat, Breakout Room, renaming, annotation etc).

Using Mentimeter poll, we ran a check-in to acknowledge a wide spectrum of emotions that participants were bringing in with them to this meetup.

Some felt anxious, antsy, tired, scared, others felt safe, confident, relaxed and "no different". However, there was one word that stood out from the word cloud resonating with majority of us: "Isolated".

Gather Data

We chose a virtual adaptation of the Mad Tea Liberating Structure for Gathering Data. In this version, participants were given 7 prompts (or invitation) via Chat.

They were instructed to take 30 seconds and respond to their first prompt without hitting Return/Send.

On facilitator's signal, the responses from the participants were sent all at once and we moved onto the second prompt. Again, 30 seconds to respond, followed by a synchronized flood of responses in Chat. After responding to all 7 prompts, participants were invited to scroll up in the chat window and read through all the amazing data that was gathered in less than 5 minutes. Below are a few excerpts to give you a glimpse into the richness of responses and a few common themes emerging from them:


- I started a new job

- I had time to work out everyday! - eating healthy and working out - collaborated - meeting of minds - receiving contacts from friends - received drawings from kids - talked with my daughter for the first time in a while - talk with someone I've lost touch with - spending extra time with my family. - I got to sleep in


Remote collaboration- unleashed!

28 May, 2020

10h of experiential learning

Proven approach to making on-line training, workshops or Scrum events effective, brain-friendly & fun with Liberating Structures and Training from the Back of the Room (TBR) principles adapted for Virtual space. Small groups, morning in Australia/New Zealand, evening in EST. Reserve your seat now!



- helping others, trust, empathy - accepting of major change - reaching out to friends intentionally - how to better connect with people I work with and people I love - coaching and learning about Coactive coaching - learning to "let go" more - stay focused on the now, and also think of better times ahead - running workshops on remote work - being motivated and positive in light of the current situation - rethinking my what important - … breathing, deep relaxing breaths - people coming together - really coming together even though we are apart


- my experience working from home and managing distributed teams - help my elderly neighbours - A calm presence, backed by reason. - physically quarantine while connecting people online - teaching people to use zoom or hangouts (family) - connecting organizations to the agile community to help find jobs - Experiences , knowledge understanding, humor and empathy. - pictures of my dog! - help to make everyone feel calmer and in control - Making phone calls and checking in - My energy, positive thoughts

Generate Insights

Now the group was ready to dive deeper into this data and generate meaningful insights.

Is it even possible with a virtual group of 50 + participants that we've got? Yes!

We used the following three things to make it happen:

1) Zoom breakout rooms - a special feature that creates an opportunity to split your large group into a number small subgroups, instantiate parallel private sub-group discussions and re-convene in the main room for debriefing and sharing.

2) Google Slides deck with a template for collecting insights from each sub-group discussion and a dedicated slide per each sub-group.

3) Conversation Cafe Liberating Structure adapted for facilitation in the virtual space. In this structure, participants engage in conversation in 4 rounds, following a set of special rules that enable equal participation and maximize ideas harvesting in each group. Here are the instructions for participants

and some inspiring takeaways from the subgroups (follow the Google Slide link above to read more):

"We are not alone -- in our feelings, in life. Thankful to the resources that are now available that I didn’t appreciate when we were just “working” in the past. Thankful finding other people of a similar mind.

We need to respond to the change. Adapting to remote working and virtual agility may be the new norm that we Agilist should start accepting and thrive"

"Appreciate team members. Family bonds are stronger than ever.

Advocating retrospectives, and will find the time to do them even better."

"Have a retro with the teams about what we learned from this. Try to encourage their video. Be cognizant of the changes to time, both increase and decrease for particular activities. Using time to upskill. More attuned to being focussed and present with coworkers. Have to be careful with our communication. Increase creativity and ability to experiment. Dealing with a whole new reality. Multitasking is a cardinal sin now."

Decide what to do

We chose another simple and powerful Liberating Structure to converge on the actions from this retrospective - 15% Solution.

This structure invited us to think about a tiny first step forward that we can take. A small action that's in our power to execute on. An action, that doesn't require an approval or additional resources to move forward with. After 2 minutes of silent reflection, participants were invited to type their actions into chat, wait for a signal and then send them all at once. To accomodate potenitally some very personal 15% solutions, we offered everyone a "Right to Pass" as well as an option to send their solutions privately to the facilitator only.

A few publicly shared 15% solutions:

- Have a theme song to start a meeting or instrumental music for checkins - Leave a note with offer to help at my neighbors' door - More one-on-one non-work conversations - share out my experiences with virtual facilitation - schedule multi-team coffee breaks 3x a week - create some virtual events for people to have fun / humor to give relief to what's going on - commit to using video - take this time to connect with people who are new to me and I can learn from and helpl with isolation - re-start joining all Zoom meetings with video and expecting the same from the team, - ask each team member what would enable improved work experience


We invited people to say a few parting words on chat and show their feedback on this retrospective format with the "Fist of Five".

"This was AWESOME - Literally connecting with people around the world (we had someone from Europe in our group) - LOVED these exercises"

"OMGoodness, soooooo good"

Yes, the group of people that started with 'isolation' as the strongest emotion, ended up feeling connected, supported and generated a boost of positive energy for and with everyone in this virtual room!

Remote facilitation for your team

If you'd like to try this retrospective with your group, here is a link to my slides - make a copy and have fun running it!

Need help taking your training on-line, creating or facilitating engaging and impactuful session with Liberating Structures? Book a free call with me to explore how I can help.

Join NYC SUG and NYC Liberating Structures meetups to get notified about future remote sessions from these groups.

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