27 May 2015

How to engage tight-lipped team members? Or the unspoken secret of Speed Dating in Retrospectives!

In every team, there have always been one or two people that are tight-lipped. It is not easy to get them talking and participating in team discussions. You need to rely on your facilitation skills to get them involved in. The more experienced you are in understanding different personalities and dealing with them, the easier it gets to engage them in team activities.

However, if you just started working with a new team or you are yourself a novice Scrum Master (or a facilitator in general) it might be hard to engage tight-lipped team members; the solution: Speed Dating Retrospective style!

In the following section, I am sharing with you the steps to run a successful Speed Dating Retrospective. Use this as a template and customize it based on your team.

The Topic
  1. I asked everyone to come up with two topics, write them on sticky notes and keep it to themselves.
    • Note: There is no mention of speed dating yet. You can keep it secret until later on and surprise your team!
  2. After everyone was done with their topics, I asked one by one to come to the wall (or whiteboard) and stick the most important topic in their hand on the wall and discuss it. I asked team members if the topic is already on the wall (or something similar to it on the wall) to discard their topic and use the second one. 
    • Note: In rare cases that both topics are on the wall, ask your team members to come up with a third topic. Alternatively you can ask them to choose one of the two topics in spite of being a duplicate. It is up to you to decide based on the topics and the dynamic of the team at that moment.
The Discussion (Speed Dating)

Once everyone has their topic on the wall, it is time to describe the rules. The rules are easy and simple to comprehend (extremely simple if you know the rules of speed dating):
  1. Ask everyone on the team to find a partner; to group teams of two (in case you have an odd number of team members, one team will be three).
  2. Ask team members to discuss their topics with their partner, one on one, as if they are dating. You will give them 10 minutes time, and let them know midway to switch. In the first half of 10 minutes, the first person is talking about his/her topic and why he/she picked it up; second person is listening and giving feedback on the first person's topic. Then ask them to switch roles in the second half.
    • Note: It is up to you to decide how much time is needed for a dating discussion. You can change the 10-minute dating time based on the time you have and the discussions complexity. As a rule of thumb, you want to allocate 1 hour for each week in a sprint.
  3. After 10 minutes, ask team members to switch partners and find new ones. A new date, a new topic!
  4. The speed dating continues until everyone talked to every other person on the team.
You might ask what's the benefit of playing this game? Playing this game gives everyone a chance to talk to every other person in the team in person. People in the smaller group tend to be more relaxed and talk more freely, especially since there is a buzz going on in the room. No one is listening to them other than their partner. You would see them listening and more importantly talking actively. It will mesmerize you how this technique work, just give it a try.

Get them talking by asking them to talk to only one person at a time
Are you in an agile environment? Are you thinking of using this as one of your retrospective technique? If so, the next step after the speed dating round would be to ask your team members to choose two or three of the most important topics and focus on them. Since they have heard every other person and their topic, it will be much easier for them to pick the most important ones. You can use a dot-voting, vote by hands or sticky note voting technique, up to you. Afterwards, you would focus on the most important topics selected. As a team, you then would try to come up with ideas on how to tackle / incorporate them in the next sprint (or iteration). At this point, as a team you need to come up with action items for each topic. Also, make sure that team members volunteer to pick up action items identified. Again, note that how much more the tight-lipped team members are vocalizing. 

This was how I once ran a Speed Dating Retrospective
  • Intro – 5 Minutes
    • Why retrospective?
    • Three Words; everybody sums up the last sprint in 3 words
  • Proud & Sorry – 15 Minutes
    • What are team members proud or sorry about?
  • Group Discussion – 50 Minutes
    • Speed Dating (5 minutes and then switch partner)
    • Action Items; Dot Voting - Start, Stop, Continue
  • Feedback – 5 Minutes
    • Feedback Door

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