A 'Success Sharing' Retro

2019-09-09

A few sprints ago, my team went through some transitions. We had lost a member, about to lose another, were gaining a third. Oh! and our Scrum Master was passing the baton to another, a trainee. As if that wasn't complicated enough, there was one more wrinkle. Our Scrum Master couldn't be present for his last Retro. Which so happened to be the one we were going to use to demo our retro style to the trainee.

Knowing this a little in advance, the Scrum Master asked me to sub-in. We met with the trainee before hand to plan. We agreed that I would perform the retro in the style of the current Scrum Master, but I still had to find a warm-up. Not one to waste an opportunity, I wracked my brain for a suitable warm-up. I wanted to capitalize on the experience that was still in the room. If possible, I sought to show the potential of Liberating Structures to the trainee. As I thought on these, I realized I wanted the retro to incorporate the client's culture too. But try as I might nothing came!

Then the day of the retro, it finally hit me! I was reviewing the structures and happened to look up Appreciative Interviews. The structure was a natural fit. 'Share an experience in an encouraging environment', then everything clicked into place.

One of the client's cultural tenants is 'Success Sharing', as in shared celebrations. With Appreciative Interviews, and 'Success Sharing' in mind, I wrote up the following instructions:

  1. Think of one of your Success Stories @ (the client) that you are proud of. What makes you proud of it? What do you think allowed/helped you to succeed?
  2. Quickly share the story and your answers with a partner. Listen to your partner's story and answers.
  3. Share your partner's Success story and insights with the group.

Since this was a warm-up, I wanted the activity to go no more than about 15 minutes. So I planned for roughly 3 minutes for step 1, 5 for step to and 5-7 minutes for step 3. The actually times were more varied, and for good reason.

The group took to the idea immediately! I explained that the idea was to help use connect and to share our knowledge. The group was ready with success stories far quicker than I had anticipated. So we jumped almost immediately into story sharing. My partner and I exchanged our stories. To my delight he and I had both targeted the same topic, though different sides, as our success. As a result I got to learn more of his perspective about the source of the success.

With our stories shared, we moved to sharing our partner's with the group. I had specifically designed this part of the exercise. First a team member gets to hear their colleague praise and brag about them. But it also keeps the group from becoming self-conscious. By sharing my partner's story You was free to tell it with more gravity. You are less embarrassed than if telling your own.

During this phase, we got to witness a wonderful happening. The vast majority of our shared stories all pointed to the existing team's culture. To how we each had contributed to setting it up, and how much it had contributed to our individual successes. I admit that I did not expect this but It was exhilarated to watch it happen. The only member who did not contribute to that narrative was our newest member, the trainee. But that is not to say he did not contribute. He had a wealth of experience with the Client. So he spoke about the client's culture, and about being surrounded by many smart people.

The activity took right at 16 minutes, and really livened up the rest of our retro. In total, we spent 2 minutes figuring out our stories and insights. Nearly a minute of that was me explaining the concept. The sharing phase took about 4 minutes, with my group actually taking the longest. The group sharing phase took 10 minutes for several reasons. Telling another's story is different and we often had to check back with our partner on details. And at each story people wanted to talk and to ask about it, which added some time, though not much.

In any case, the warm-up made a significant impression on the trainee, as he asked how I had come by it. As this, the entire group's interested seemed piqued. We talked for some 15 more minutes, after Retro concluded. We discussed how I had composed the warm-up and the design I had created for the ends I sought.

I would mark this as a phenomenal success! Though I will offer a word of caution to any who seek to replicate it: Watch for your team member's native language! Since this involves a degree of public speaking, a Team member who is less confident in English may feel uncomfortable or struggle a bit. Beyond that, I hope you find Success Sharing to be a blow-out success for you too!