Preparation for the event
Often we spend a lot of time in retrospectives just brainstorming issues, so I wanted to get that out of the way and determine the highest priority discussion items before the meeting. To achieve this, I tried Google Moderator. People could make suggestions of topics they wanted to discuss, vote items up or vote them down. We decided that we were going to discuss only the top five items that came up. By the end of it we had 130 votes on 10 suggestions from 26 people, so I'll say the preparation went quite well.
To prepare the room for the meeting, I put up the above poster at different places in the room. I also laid out the 'table cloth' on five cafe style tables, by covering them with flip chart paper. To top it all off, I ensured that each table had pencils, crayons, markers, stickies and index cards. Everything that could stimulate their creativity.
How I ran the event
So once we were done with the voting, it was time to get to the meat of the activity. I did my best to keep to the essence of The World Cafe format. Here are the steps I followed:
- Since this is a new team, I started off with a safety check to determine if everyone felt safe to contribute their ideas and share their thoughts.
- Once I'd confirmed the safety levels in the group, I assigned a problem on each table.
- Each table had a minimum of four to five people on it.
- For the first round of 15 minutes, everyone at the table discussed the problem I'd assigned to them and also potential solutions.
- The groups had the opportunity to discuss problems in many different ways. They could doodle on the table cloth, or even do elaborate illustrations to graphically record their conversations. They could use the stickies or index cards as facilitation tools. They could note action items, or just have a rambling discussion!
- After 15 minutes, I had one person stay back at each table to retain context and play host while others moved to different tables.
- As a cafe-host, I floated across tables to ensure everyone was comfortable with the topic on hand and had enough, safe discussion going on. Wherever I saw things getting stuck for too long, I interjected and let the group see a different perspective.
- I encouraged participants to link and connect ideas coming from their previous table conversations.
- In the last round of conversation, I asked people to synthesise their discoveries and to consolidate action items for the problem they were solving.
- Once everyone was done, I consolidated action items on a whiteboard, ensuring that most of them had an owner for them.
I actually felt we got a lot of discussion going in the retro and gave each item it's due importance. We got a lot of diverse perspectives and connections on each problem, which gave us a lot of interesting action items to work on. The cross-pollination across tables ensured that people were engaged through the discussions and that we were sharing ideas across small groups. In contrast to traditional retro formats, we spent an equal and a large amount of time on all issues, by trying to solve them in rotating, small groups. This means we now have a huge list of tangible action items that the team can execute to make real improvements.
If you wish to run a World Cafe style retro and want to learn more about my experience, please do reach out to me. There's a lot of good information in the World Cafe hosting guides, so do use them. Of course, there's also the great book by Juanita Brown and David Isaacs.
And BTW, if you have success with this format, please do drop a note on the comments section of this blogpost.