The Constellations exercise in a distributed setup

A few retros back I asked the team for input on the retrospective; Should we continue doing them? In same manner? Are meetings as rewarding as we could expect?

The response was a bit worrying. At first I only heard silence, though after a some time one or two persons replied that “It works fine” and “We should continue doing them”. Feedback is always good. It’s lack of feedback that is worrying.

The other day, just before it was time for another retro, I read a blogpost from Luis Gonçalves about Constellations as a Set-the-stage exercise. In this exercise the group stands in a circle with some object in the center. Each person moves closer to the center if he/she see value in a specified topic. The more value, the closer you move inwards to the center.

I thought it sounded simple enough for us to try. Since our team is distributed, we had to modify it by letting biggest value be closest to the webcam. If you see a super low value you would be… right, super far away from the webcam.

The thing to measure was formulated as: “How big value do you experience from our recurring retrospective meetings?”

The outcome was very spread out. Some people found the retrospectives very rewarding, saying they learnt a lot and enjoyed trying new exercises. Other people stayed really long way back in the room. One person felt that he had so much other important things right now, so trying out exercises in an experimental way was not working very well for him. Several people argued that the 1 1/2 hours for retrospectives was too long. They argued that it should be possible to manage retro in one hour.


I saw lots of smiles and happy people. But I also saw people showing distress. This was reflected in the outcome as well, since the task was to visualize experienced value of the exercise itself.

Because everyone took a position in the room, each and everyone helped in contributing to the feedback. As you might recall, asking the team and waiting for a reply from someone had not worked.

For myself it got very clear how much it varies in the team about value gained from retrospectives. It was quite a surprise for me to see and the message got really strong in this way of visualizing stuff. It hits you in the gut! (in a good way)

The exercise and the experience from it reminds me of a “human sculpture” workshop that I attended at the AYE 2010 Conference, Steve Smith facilitated. The group took on positions to visualize a difficult situation that one of the team members told us about. One person took on a pose to visualize an angry user, another person visualized an angry co-worker, and so on. Very powerful stuff! Not least for the person getting the situation visualized for him.


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