Retrospectives offer a precious moment for teams to come together, slow down for a second, and think deeply about their work. But they are also a powerful moment for team bonding and a chance to have some fun together.After all, nobody wants the team to be doing the same Start, Stop, Continue retrospective sprint after sprint.
Playing games together helps teams build stronger connections, become more resilient, get to know each other, improve their teamwork and even build psychological safety.For distributed, hybrid or remote teams, games have an important role in helping your team build rapport while separated from one another.
In this blog, we talk through some awesome games to try out in your next sprint retrospective to help you build stronger bonds and grow together:
- 🪐 Planets in Orbit – Get a sense of whether your team are aligned
- 🧱 Lego Retrospective – For when Lego speaks louder than words
- 🏀 Agile Ball Point Game – Find the key to continuous improvement
- 🔐 Rusty Lake Escape Room Games – Test your communication and problem-solving skills
- ❎ Retrospective Bingo – Weed out anti-patterns with a simple game of bingo
- 🚢 Agile Battleships – A game to teach the benefit of tight feedback loops
- 🃏 Retros Against Humanity – An agile take on Cards Against Humanity
- 🪑 Virtual Alignment Game – Learn how to stop teams disrupting each others' work
These games can be used either as stand-alone retrospective activities, or as a specific section of your retrospective to get people thinking about an issue or to prompt reflection.
1. 🪐 Planets in Orbit – Get a sense of whether your team are aligned
Duration: 30-60 minutes
When working together for a long time, teams might lose track of how aligned they are on team values or work preferences. Or even question whether they are aligned at all if tension crops up.
This activity helps teams to understand how aligned they are on values and work preferences so they can have important discussions where misalignment reveals itself. This game is sometimes also known as the Constellation game.
How it works: Duplicate a copy of the Planets in Orbit game. In a physical setting, create an imagined centre of the universe, by placing a chair or a table in the middle of the room.
Next, the facilitator reads out specific questions about values or the previous sprint.
Values-based statement: “It’s important for me to get public praise when I did good work”
Retrospective statement: “I think we did a good job this sprint”
The team then position themselves close to the centre of the universe if they agree with the statement, and further away from the centre if they don’t feel aligned to it. Each team member can explain the rationale behind their decision, building a better understanding of values within the team.
When remote, this involves dragging your item in closer and further away from the centre of the grid.
In a physical setting, it means moving closer or further away from the centre of the room.
This game is a powerful way of discussing and understanding personal values in your team. The end goal of this activity is for your team to build a greater emotional awareness of their colleagues, and understand how best to engage them in specific scenarios.
2. 🧱 Lego Retrospective – For when Lego speaks louder than words
Duration: 60-90 minutes
Sometimes words aren’t enough to express how you feel about the last sprint. Well, they don’t always have to. During a Lego Retrospective, teams build a representation of the last sprint and offer it up for discussion.
Lego building retrospective with one of the @envato teams this afternoon.— Jay Hyett (@jhyett) March 9, 2018
Iteration 1 - Build something that reflects the last sprint.
Iteration 2 - Build something that represents the next step for the team.
So much fun and remote friendly. #lego #agile pic.twitter.com/FR3NPygNXQ
How it works: Distribute some Lego to your remote or in-person team and simply set a prompt. The most common ask is for the team to represent the last sprint in Lego. But you can take this in almost any direction you want. Focus on feelings by asking the team to build a model of how they feel or get existential and ask participants to build a representation of the Scrum team in Lego. Ask each member to present their model and explain their thought process.
The goal of this activity is to prompt some lateral thinking about the last sprint or the team dynamic in general. And it’s an excellent activity for introverts who may feel more comfortable creating an abstract model of how they feel rather than trying to pinpoint the exact words.
This game helps your team members to also build a greater appreciation for how colleagues think. Some team members may put together large models, while others create small ones. Some may be very straight-forward, while others are ostentatious.
3. 🏀 Agile Ball Point Game – Find the key to continuous improvement
Duration: 15-30 minutes
The most valuable retrospectives focus on how teams can improve their working processes rather than the work itself. That’s because tasks may be a one-off, but processes indicate a longer-term way of doing things.
The ball point game is all about helping your team find the key to continuous process improvement.
How it works: The goal of this game is to work as a team to pass a virtual ball between each other according to a specific order, as many times as possible to score goals. Only everyone has to touch the ball, and there must be ‘air time’ between each pass – so you must drag and drop the ball into white space before it is picked up by your colleague.
In a whiteboard tool, set up icons for each user and import an image of a ball. The team must decide how they will effectively pass this ball among themselves as many times as possible while maintaining the ‘air time’ between each pass.
Teams estimate how many ‘goals’ they think they can get, and then compare to the actual at the end of each 1 minute round. In between rounds, teams can have a discussion about how to improve their process to score more goals the next time. This may involve re-arranging how they pass the ball, or having a ‘multiple balls in play’ approach, for example.
This game helps teams see continuous improvement in action and cautions against over-committing on estimates.
Discuss your respective approaches to the process at the end of the activity and whether any of the principles of improvement could be applied for the next sprint.
4. 🔐 Rusty Lake Escape Room Games – Test your communication and problem-solving skills
Duration: 60-90 minutes
Escape rooms provide such a great opportunity for your team to bond and problem-solve together. As retrospective or team retreat activities, they are ideal for helping teams practice keeping an open mind when problem-solving.
The company Rusty Lake has a series of free (or very inexpensive) escape room games – and we can attest that they are pretty awesome.
How it works: Have one member of the team download the game on Steam, open it up, and share the screen. This person is going to be the escape room facilitator.
Split your team into two groups:
Facilitator: A single person who cannot take any independent actions, but must fulfil the decisions made by the team. This person runs the escape room game on their computer and shares their screen.
Team: Remaining team members who must discuss and guide the facilitator on the next course of action.
Separating the facilitator and the team puts the emphasis on communicating clearly and forming agreement as a group. The role of the facilitator is simply to execute on the actions the team have agreed to take next.
Teams can subsequently reflect on their performance in the game. If people were talking over each other or there were arguments that slowed people down, take time to analyse those and think about how unproductive behaviours could have been prevented.
Free escape rooms we love:
5. ❎ Retrospective Bingo – Weed out anti-patterns with a simple game of bingo
Duration: 45-60 minutes
Ever noticed some negative behaviours creeping into your retrospectives? Well, this activity from Ben Linders helps you to gamify the process of pointing them out. The benefit? Better team awareness of productive and unproductive behaviours.
How it works: Each team member gets a retrospective bingo board which includes negative retrospective behaviours, such as ‘talking over other people’, ‘asking leading questions’, etc. You can use an existing board or build your own with your team.
Assign team members various unproductive behaviours from the bingo board and ask the team to act them out during the course of a discussion.
The goal is for the team to spot the unproductive behaviours as they come up and practice steering colleagues in a more productive direction.
The first person to spot or identify a line of negative behaviours shouts out ‘Bingo’! You can use Agile Retrospectives Bingo to run a retrospective of your retrospective by reviewing any issues the team spotted and thinking about how more productive behaviours can be encouraged in future.
Think of this as an audit of your retrospective.
This game suits teams that have been working together for a long time and may need to reset how they run retrospectives. But it’s also great for new teams who have never done retros before and need some guidance on what behaviours are productive and unproductive.
If you like the game, you can extend it to other areas of your agile practice.
6. 🚢 Agile Battleships – A game to teach the benefit of tight feedback loops
Duration: 10-15 minutes
You may already be familiar with the game of battleships. But imagine playing it blind.
The Agile Battleships game from BoxUK (originally by Adaptagility), helps to teach teams the importance of tight feedback loops by offering two rounds of battleships: one blind, and one with feedback.
How it works: First navigate to the online game of Agile Battleships with your team. You can do this activity in small groups of 2-3, individually, or as a full team of 7-8 people, with one person sharing their screen.
- The first round of the game is played blind. The team can select 30 spots on the board to fire their torpedoes and hope that they will hit. Then the results are revealed. You can gamify this by asking the team to estimate how many confirmed hits they expect to make or how many ships they will sink.
- The second round is played like a regular battleship game. You can see when you’ve hit a battleship and adapt your strategy from there. At the end of the game the results are revealed.
The goal of this game is to show teams the importance of tight feedback loops. Instead of walking down one path for a long time before receiving feedback, the game shows how early feedback can lead to radically better outcomes.
Your team can reflect afterwards about instances where feedback has been too slow and where feedback loops can be shortened in your day to day work.
7. 🃏 Retros Against Humanity – An Agile Take on Cards Against Humanity
Duration: 45-60 minutes
Battleships isn’t the only game that’s been adapted for Agile teams. Now we have an Agile Cards Against Humanity – also from BoxUK!
The goal of this game is to make your retrospectives light-hearted, more engaging, and perhaps a little bit wild, too.
How it works: Retros Against Humanity complements your existing retrospective process. So you can start off your retro as usual with a template that splits reflections into good, bad and needs improvement. When your team has written up their reflections, that’s where the fun begins.
The facilitator should read out one of the Retros Against Humanity cards for each prompt (good, bad, needs improvement). Team members then have to choose a reflection that best fits the prompt card.
The team can then talk through their responses to each prompt and see if there are any topics worth digging into in more detail.
The goal is to have some fun and generate a few laughs while having a conversation about how the team can improve.
Retros Against Humanity is a surprisingly good way of getting the team to write more reflections. If team members don’t write enough, it’s more difficult for them to play the game.
That said, the kind of detailed retrospective reflections that might yield value for the team will rarely fit in with the prompts of the cards, making its usefulness questionable.
8. 🪑 Virtual Alignment Game – Learn how to stop teams disrupting each others’ work
Duration: 45-60 mins
Ever felt like things worked well enough in your own team, but got a bit messy when you had to interact with others?
Well, this game from Chris Stone helps to highlight the issues when teams lack a clear vision or purpose or have problems with inefficiency.
How it works: Download the Virtual Alignment Game board here and split your team into three groups. If you’re in a Scrum team, this may just be 2-3 people per group.
Each group is given a different goal:
- Group 1: Must put all the chairs in the board to the side of the room
- Group 2: Must turn all of the chairs in the board upside down
- Group 3: Must put all of the chairs in the board on the table
And now the microphones go on mute and each team simultaneously tries to achieve their task, unaware of the tasks the others have been assigned.
The team must find a way of collectively satisfying their goals: to move the table to the right-side of the room, and stack the chairs on top of it upside down.
But that's not so easy when you can’t speak to each other.
The game effectively emulates the situation where multiple teams disrupt each other’s work but fail to realise inefficiencies due to lack of communication. Teams should reflect at the end of the game on what learnings they can take back to their daily work.
Play More Games for Fun Retrospectives
A well-chosen game can be just what your team needs to bring back the energy in your retrospectives and force some deep thinking about continuous improvement.
Humans are proven to learn better when gaming is involved. In fact, a 2013 study showed that learning outcomes improved by 23% when they derived from an educational game.
So next time you see your team’s eyes glazing over a little in your retrospective, try to spice things up with a game or two.
Every game in this list has been especially chosen to be compatible with remote or in-person teams, and these games are quick and easy to learn.
If you try any of them out or have any games we should add, let us know by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org