3 retrospective methods online: playful and creative!

Do you want your boss to love you? Well, then increase the performance of your team! Go from being an average car to being an explosive rocket. 

How? Download my free and science based eBook on "Reaching team flow in 12 easy steps" and take is seriously. But now let's get to the actual topic of this text.

It is not an easy thing. Finding fun, interactive and value-adding retrospective methods online is no easy task. That you can do online with your team.

Escape your daily routine 

As a Scrum Master and psychologist, the retrospective methods that bring team members out of their daily grind are particularly valuable to me. These let you look at things from a different perspective.

That's why I have summarized 3 online retrospective methods here. These three are a little different, a little unusual, but they work in an online context!

Online Retrospective Methods 1: Taboo 

The first method here is probably the best way to check in. A check-in that focuses on the fun factor, as well as stimulates thought and reflection.

Some probably know this game: Taboo. 

The concept is simple. A person from your team - for example Max - explains a term orally. The rest of the team has to guess what Max is talking about.

There is one point for the team, for every correctly guessed term. You could therefore divide your team into two sub-teams that compete against each other.

The difficulty comes from the rule that Max may not use certain other terms that are closely related to that word.

For example, if Max has to explain the word “sprint," he may not use the following words: 2 weeks, Scrum, period, 100m, fast.

If he uses one of these words - oops! Then his team gets no points and you move on to the next word.

The steps

Here's how I would design this game as an online retrospective method.

Step 1

You should think of terms from the position of a Scrum Master, Agile Coach, Product Owner, Manager or generally as a facilitator - terms that could be used to prepare the team for later topics of the retrospective.

The terms can be relatively general, related to the context of teams, or they can relate to “softer” factors such as communication or error culture, whichever themes were the most noticeable in the last sprint. 

I have put together 10 ideas for terms for you here - from the areas of “Sprint” to “Meta-Topics”.

Before the colon is the term that needs to be explained. Behind them are the words that you are not allowed to use in the explanation. You are also welcome to add some - depending on the language used by your team.

Daily: 15 minutes, team members, every day / daily, communication…

Scrum Master: supervisor, manager, retrospective, impediment, specialist

Continuous improvement: better, worse, permanent, reflection, measure, regular

Sprint review: review, 2 weeks, scrum, period, review

Definition of done: done, goal, ticket, sprint, review

Bug: bug, software, insect, system, develop, program

Error: wrong, right, problem, culture, cost

Gratitude: work, earn, positive, helpful, feeling

Communication: speaking, talking, conversation, information, exchange

Team: group, system, we, people, people

In any case, it is recommended that you also think specifically about the right topics that fit your last sprint.

Additionally, you can think of which terms should not be mentioned in this context.

Step 2

In the retrospective, things can get a bit complicated at the beginning. You have to communicate the terms to one person in the team, but others may not see or hear them. It would be optimal if you could send it to the person privately via chat. 

Alternatively, you can also ask everyone to look away or only participate with audio. You can start explaining during this time.

If you have formed two teams, it would of course be sufficient if half of you switched off your video function or looked away from your screens.

Step 3

As a Scrum Master, you time, for example for 40 seconds, for a person to explain. 

You also need to check that the person explaining is not using the forbidden terms.

Step 4

Either when all of your pre-defined terms have been explained, or when everyone has had their turn, the game will end. Whoever explains the most terms (team or individual) wins. 

If you are more interested in the fun factor and less in reflecting on the right terms ... 

You can also just use pre-made terms. You can do online taboo, and play for example via this link. You would then only have to share your screen with a specific person or team.

Let's get to the next online retrospective method.

Online Retrospective Methods 2: Online Retro Tools

Why not use what's already there? There are tons of tools out there that can help you find and run retrospective methods online. They are designed for exactly this purpose, and many of them are free. 

I am thinking of, for example, Retrium Board and Funretro. One thing you should note is that these are tools from America, where you should be careful regarding the issue of data protection. 

My personal favorite is obvious. 

Because ... I had a strong feeling that you can get a lot more out of retro tools, I teamed up with a software developer and business economist, and developed our own retrospective tool together.

It's called Echometer. The focus of our tool is to provide interactive and playful support, especially from a psychological perspective, when designing your retro. Here it is compared to other remote retro tools.

Comparison of remote retro tools

You can conduct a retrospective with our tool without anyone having to register by the way ⏫

Simply follow this button to open your first retrospective, choose your retrospective questions and invite the team via link:

There are more than 30 kickass retrospective ideas available (still growing, no worries).

If you are still unsure, feel free to check out the remote agile coach Holger's experiences with our tool .

Online Retrospective Methods 3: Black Stories - Remote Edition

The next of these online retrospective methods really stimulates creativity, and will surely also make one or two of you laugh. 

It is also particularly suitable for a fun online check-in, inviting you to a creative session.

By this, we mean black stories

What are black stories?

Black stories are a kind of yes-no puzzle. You have to guess as a group - based on minimal information - what happened. Typically ... something terrible has happened, which is why it's called a black story.

For this game, you may only ask yes-no questions.

An example of a black story: A diver lies dead in an office. What happened? (For the 

The best way would be, much like the first method, if you adapt it to your everyday working life. Here are four ideas of what kind of black stories to use online and in the office.

  • After the last sprint, Johannes fell motionless into a hole of darkness.
    • Explanation: Johannes is a Lego figure. It was used when practicing a Sprint within Lego Series Play to teach beginners the scrum framework. After the sprint, Johannes ended up back in the Lego box. The box is completely sealed - a hole in darkness.
  • A diver lies dead in the office building. What happened?
    • Explanation: The diver in the water was picked up by a firefighting plane to extinguish a forest fire during a diving trip. The water was accidentally drained above the office building right next to the forest - and not above the forest itself.
  • Two Product Owners (or Agile Coaches, Scrum Masters, CEOs ...) find a tube in a meadow. Both look into the opposite ends. The tube is not particularly long, not clogged and straight. Nevertheless, the two cannot see each other. Why?
    • They are look into the tube at different times.
  • (For football fans) After a physical argument, a duel is held. One of the duelists is hit in the head by a shot. The victim remains unharmed and is even happy about being hit. Why?
    • It is a foul followed by a penalty. The goalkeeper stops the ball with his head and is happy to have prevented a goal.

The steps

I recommend the following steps in order to optimally use a black story for your online retrospective.

  1. To begin your online retrospective, you share the puzzle.
  2. Anyone on the team can ask a yes-no question. For example: did the whole thing happen at night?

If the answer is no, the next person asks a question.

As facilitator, you would usually be the only one who knows the right answer. 

In theory, you could also form two teams and compete against each other (with two different black stories). Whoever solves a puzzle fastest - or with fewer questions - wins.

The advantage of having two teams: normally you have a lot of fun simply listening to how the current solution hypotheses of the opposing team go in the wrong direction ...

  1. The game can end when the term is guessed. Or, for the purpose of timeboxing: You stipulate that only 10 questions can be asked in total.

If there is a question limit, the team has to come up with a clever question strategy - which is always good practice.

Or, you can specify that the game only lasts 10 minutes.

The nice thing about the game is certainly that you can still play when there are too many players or large groups - for more retrospective ideas for large groups, you can check out our blog article regarding exactly this.

Conclusion & even more tips

It's not so easy to have a good online retrospective. Hopefully one of these three different approaches here met your taste.

If you are searching for fun retrospective ideas, check out our post on 54 Kickass Retrospective Ideas for Agile Teams (including the Mario Kart Retro & the Team Morale Health Check).

At last, one of the most effective ways to sustainably develop the agile mindset of teams is implementing an agile health check. Our free team health check kit is there to help you implement it and ask the right questions. Just takes a minute to go through it 🙂

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