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Designing a Facilitator training - Part 1

Posted on 07/30/11.

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how
to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts
its behavior accordingly.

from Principles behind the Agile Manifesto

I believe that the ability to inspect and adapt is one of the essential assets of an agile team. When we discussed about what we could do to help our teams to improve this aspect of their work during one of our internal Open Spaces, we came up with the idea of enabling more of our colleagues to facilitate retrospectives in their branch offices. As I do a lot of retrospectives for the teams I work with as internal coach, I volunteered to develop a workshop to teach interested colleagues the ropes of facilitation.

The challenge

Now I’m convinced that neither coaching nor facilitation is something you can learn while listening to someone in the front of the classroom or by reading a book (even though Esther Derby’s and Diana Larsen’s excellent “Agile Retrospective: Making Good Teams Great” helps a lot). What I wanted people to actually walk away with was both some first hand experience and the feeling that this was the right way to help their teams grow . I decided to go for a one day workshop to make it reasonably easy to attend even for those colleagues who are busy with projects at our customer’s sites and to keep the initial expenses low.

At the same time, I had to take into account the fact that many of the workshop’s participants might have no prior experience with retrospectives at all.


So within those constraints, I came up with the following primary design goals:

  • Demonstrate why we should do retrospectives
  • Provide as much hands-on experience as possible
  • Make the role of the facilitator clear
  • Simulate some of the more difficult situations you might get into as facilitator

Additionaly, I considered it necessary to provide just enough “theoretic” background for the participants to help them understand the fundamental concepts of retrospectives.

I was also pretty sure that it wouldn’t make sense to go into too much detail regarding actual activities, as there’s a lot of good material available in book form and on the web.

Sources of inspirations

There were a few sources of inspiration I draw from for the first draft of the workshop. One of my first serious exposures to retrospectives was a two-day workshop with Jutta Eckstein some four years ago. One of the things I really liked was the way Jutta used a lot of retrospective activities to teach about retrospectives. This not only lead to lots of interaction, but it also allowed the participants to see a very experienced facilitator actually leading through those activities.

I was lucky to see another interesting way to introduce people to retrospectives when attending Sallyann Freudenberg’s “Goldilocks Retrospective” session at XP2010 in Trondheim. In less than an hours, Sallyann “simulated” a complete retrospective with the participants playing the role of bears, who from various sources had just learned about the burglary at Family Bear’s place and tried to devise a plan to prevent such a thing from happening again. While this session wasn’t exactly targetting facilitator’s, I very much liked the way it quickly illustrated the workings of a retrospective.

Last but not least, I was pleasantly surprised by how well the concept of Coding Dojo translated to coaching skills when attending the Coaching Dojo at Agile Coach Camp Norway earlier this year.

The first agenda

Some weeks, a few hundred index cards and a very helpful discussion with Rachel Davies and Paul Carr at said Agile Coach Camp later, I came up with the following plan:

Reception and Introduction

Trying to involve the participants as early as possible, I decided to start with a very short reception followed by the ESVP (Explorer, Shopper, Vacationer, Prisoner) activity from Agile Retrospectives. I also decided to skip the traditional introduction round in favour of another retrospective activity I often use for setting the stage and decided to follow up with a Check-In during which each participant would give a one-sentence answer to the question “What needs to happen in order to make this a successful day for you?”.

Goldilocks Retrospective

To make it easier for those colleagues with no prior exposure to retrospectives to follow along, I would then introduce the basic concept by means of the aforementioned Goldilocks Retrospective.

Ball Point Game

When thinking about how to best demonstrate why we should do retrospectives, I remembered the Ball Point Game Boris Gloger uses to illustrate the principles of Scrum. It occurred to me that by focussing on the breaks between the actual iterations during the debriefing, both the reasons for and the goals of retrospectives should easily become clear.

Essentials of a retrospective

With all the action going on during the first hours of the workshop, I felt that a change of pace was needed to let things sink in and decided to conclude the morning with some theory. The topics I planned to discuss with the participants included:

Role of the facilitator

Role of the facilitator
Fun fact: In German, 'Rolle' is a homonym
meaning both 'scroll' and 'role'.

To get things going again after lunch break and to provide some hands-on training, I came up with a variant of Scrum from Hell. I assumed this would most probably lead to a discussion about moderation and facilitation techniques, for which I prepared a few examples.

I also planned to address the following topics in this part of the workshop:

  • Planning a retrospective
  • Debriefing activities

Structure of a retrospective

Following the rationale mentioned above, I kept this part of the workshop to a minimum and basically just prepared a few flip chart sheets summarizing the activities used during the workshop and introducing a few new ones to be used during the last part of the training.

Retrospective Dojo and Closing

Building upon the concept of the Coaching Dojo, I figured that it would be good idea to close the workshop with what I called a Retrospective Dojo. I prepared two different retrospectives, both with a topic all of the participants could relate to, and some rules dealing with facilitator rotation and giving feedback, planning to let everybody experience the role of a facilitator in a real retrospective.

I would then close the workshop with a feedback round after having the attendants summarize their impressions from the Retrospective Dojo.

To be continued

In the next post, I will desribe the workshops content in a little more detail and let you know what I learned during its first implementation. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your experiences with teaching or learning how to facilitate retrospectives. What worked well for you and which traps did you fall into?