I facilitated a three-day workshop with a group of 35 participants representing 16 different teams from different departments who work together on a cross-team initiative. A big part of the workshop was loosely following the Open Space Technology (OST). However, one agenda item on the first morning was a retrospective about the initiative during the last release cycle. While I have decent experience facilitating retrospective meetings for Agile teams, I needed to find a structure and activities that work for such a large and diverse group. Another challenge was the time box. Given the overall agenda, I could only plan for 60 minutes max. These circumstances led me to the idea to actually use the retrospective to generate topics for the Open Space marketplace, hence to skip the “Generate Insight” and “Decide What To Do” phases of a classical retrospective structure.
Here’s what I came up with:
Set the stage (10 minutes)
We did a quick temperature reading, how the people in the room feel about the current state of the cross-team initiative. Participants were asked to place a sticky on the temperature flipchart. At first, I wasn’t sure if people will feel confident to expose their mood to the group. One way to address this would be to face the flipchart away from the people and only reveal the end result to the whole audience. But I decided against it and it turned out to be OK.
Gather Data (40 minutes)
I decided to give it a try with the 1-2-4-All Liberating Structure. It’s a fast and very efficient way to gather topics, ideas and questions and at the same time converge on the most important topics. The basic idea of 1-2-4-All is that participants first jot down their topics silently on their own for one minute. Each topic on a separate sticky or index card. Afterwards, they form pairs, share their topics for two minutes and decide on the most important topic. Then they share their findings in groups of four for 4 minutes and decide on the most important topic which they then share with all the participants in the room.
The room was arranged with five pods for seven people each. So, in essence, the structure was more a 1-2(3)-7-All retrospective, where people had to form dyads or triads before sharing with the whole table and then with the whole room.
I first focused on the good things, the victories, the successes to celebrate. I asked the participants to jot down whatever pops into their mind while answering “Looking back at the last release cycle. What achievements concerning X can you celebrate with your team?”. After one round of 1-2-4-All, each table shared their biggest achievements and I invited them to write it on a big sticky and place it on the victories flipchart. After that, everybody was invited to put all their achievements they jotted down on the flipchart as well.
We did the same activity to identify challenges and problems. Participants wrote down answers to the question “What were the biggest challenges concerning X during the last release cycle?” and shared it in pairs, with the table, and again with the whole group. This time, we did two rounds, to create a decent amount of initial topics for the Open Space Marketplace.
Participants then basically used the breakout sessions during the Open Space to generate insights and decide what to do. The outcome of the breakout sessions was presented to the whole group at the end of the day as solution proposals and everybody had a chance to indicate their agreement or disagreement with the proposal, which sometimes led to follow-up sessions to further discuss the problem and refine the solution.
The 1-2-4-All structure as such works very well, given you provide a crystal clear explanation (Note to self: more rehearsal next time). It is a very efficient way to gather data and vote on the most important topics to tackle and it basically scales up to very big groups.
I think it is important to stick to the timeboxes. It might feel stressful at first, especially the one-minute silent jotting, but it helps the participants to focus whats on top of their head, which is most likely the most important things for them.
Because participants were representatives from different teams with different challenges, they had a hard time deciding on the biggest challenge per table.
The Open Space format is a great way to tackle the various topics coming out of the “Gather Data”-phase. Given enough time, it allows working on solution proposals in an iterative manner during several breakout sessions. This structure helped the whole group to gain mutual understanding and come to a general agreement about the various solutions and next steps.