Yesterday I had a wonderful experience leading a retrospective for 25 people.
I would like to share an activity we used to study the timeline. Going through every note is passive for most, and often reduces energy. Creating narratives of it is consolidating the mass of notes, and often adding new details. And narratives create meaning.
We had unusually long timeline, starting from 1970. No-one of those who started the company was anymore present, but stories were remembered.
First we created a standard history timeline. People swarmed around it and talked. I overheard people telling fragments of stories, and decided to use that idea.
Next smallish groups brainstormed the question: “What is the story that I would like to hear about this history?” The groups provided themes like “Personnel policy”, “Organizational culture”, “Market development”, “Evolving of the production work” or “Evolving of the IT-system”. If there are too many themes, you can prioritize by for example dot voting. Please improvise as needed.
Next I let people to self-organize around their favorite theme. I prefer to let people use their full body in the selection process. We assigned a place for each theme and people physically walked to their preferred theme. If no-one goes around a title, there will not be a story. It is OK, and potential observation material.
I gave a quite loose assignment to create a few minutes story in about 20 minutes. The groups were free to adjust the title if needed. Each story plus discussion lasted about ten minutes.
The stories were appreciated in the reflection in the end of the retrospective.