A Lightweight Appreciative Retrospection

Teacher appreciation bouquetIn December last year, our team had to meet a challenging business goal, and to meet it we changed quite a lot of our process. We planned to hold a retrospective on the changes in the new year, to see what we would keep, and what should be changed.
As the end of the year came close, we felt the desire to have some kind of reflection at the end of the year, too. It felt strange to go on Christmas holiday without having talked about the changes at all. On the other hand, we didn't feel the need to create action items, which we wouldn't feel very connected to when coming back from holiday. Instead, we wanted something lightweight and fun - and preferably something appreciative (that is, inspired by Appreciative Inquiry, which we had good experiences with in the past).
I took on the task to design and facilitate this retrospection. For the main part, I decided to use an appreciative variant of the Like To Like exercise from "Agile Retrospectives". The session was quite well received, so I thought I'd share with you how it worked:

Setting the Stage

After presenting the goal and the agenda, I asked everyone to imagine that he or she would give a personal party to celebrate the accomplishments of the month. In round robin fashion, they should state in one or two words what theme or motto the party would have.
Although our group is always a little bit shy about these kinds of exercises, I think it did a good job on getting everyone involved and setting the mood for an appreciative session.

Game Preparation

Everyone got six index cards and a big marker. Then, in succession, I asked them to write each two cards for the top things
  • we had already done before December, and continued to do in December
  • we had changed in December
  • we could change in January to make it an even better month
(For that last part, I actually asked them to imagine that we were at the end of January, that it had been an even better month, and to write down the top two things we had changed for that to happen. I'm feared by my team for this kind of question... ;)

Playing the Game

From earlier games of Like To Like, we already had quite a bunch of colored index cards with adjectives written on it. So for this time, I only had to select a couple of cards which I thought had at least a potentially positive connotation. (Normally, when not playing the appreciative version, you will want to have a balanced mix of positive and negative adjectives.)
So we played one round of Like To Like, which was quite some fun. I won't repeat the game rules here - if you know "Apples to Apples", you know the drill. If you don't, I urge you to buy a copy of Diana's and Esther's book - if you are interested in retrospectives, you should do so, anyway.
After the first round, we still had enough cards left for a second round, but the team decided to go on to the next step in the agende, which was the

Open Discussion

Now we put the already played cards in the middle of the group (most of us were actually sitting on the floor or on the sofa), and the players started to reveal the cards they hadn't played yet, saying a few words while doing so and answering questions when things were not clear.
When all cards where laid open, a discussion started on what patterns were observed and how people felt about it. This part had a quite nice atmosphere, with everybody being involved and interested in listening to the views of the others. Facilitating this was a breeze. :) And I think it did a great job at getting mutual understanding on how we felt about the changes we did, and the future we hoped for.
When the discussion slowed down, it was time for


I invited the team members to offer appreciations, in the form they already knew from a Temperature Reading we had done earlier that year: "[name], I appreciate you for ..." As always, things started slowly, but then we got quite some appreciations, which was nice.


When we came to an end, I thanked everyone for the nice experience, and asked for feedback in kind of an informal "Plus/Delta" (again an exercise from "Agile Retrospectives"). I just wish I had written down the suggestions I got. :(


Never before I had so heavily adapted and remixed exercises for a custom made "retrospective". The feedback I got from the attendees was quite encouraging. And it definitely fueled my enthusiasm for appreciative retrospectives.

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