Elephant in the Room

If you feel real issues are not being raised in your regular retrospectives, use the Elephant in the Room exercise to help the team open up.

Best For

Raising unsaid issues

When to Use

In a retrospective

What is the Elephant in the Room Retrospective?

“Let’s talk about the elephant in the room” — or in other words, what are you not saying during our regular retrospectives?

This exercise challenges a team to talk about the topics they may be avoiding, whether that's due to boredom, fear, apathy, or other reasons.

Get to the bottom of tough or awkward issues

So, you've got an agile team that's been around the block a few times. Things are ticking along, but your retrospectives aren't exactly the lively, idea-churning sessions they used to be. It's almost like everyone's on autopilot – been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

There could be a bunch of reasons for this slump. Maybe folks reckon they've learned all there is to learn and see retros as a snooze fest. Or perhaps they've seen those big-picture issues too many times, without resolution. And let's not forget about those pesky team conflicts that nobody really wants to dive into.

If you're the one steering the ship – a coach, scrum master, team lead, or the like – it's your job to get to the bottom of what's up. You've got to get folks talking, sharing their thoughts, and back to that buzzing hive of ideas that you know they can be. That's where "The Elephant in The Room" comes in handy.

"The Elephant in The Room" is like the defibrillator for your flatlining retrospectives. It's a way to get everyone talking about the big stuff – the issues that everyone knows about but no one wants to touch with a ten-foot pole. We're talking about those awkward topics that are usually shoved under the rug.

We know that the 'elephant' in the room is usually something big and awkward that's stopping us from moving forward. It could be anything from team disagreements to company-wide problems, or even a bit of complacency that's sneaked into your team.

The trick is to make the elephant feel small enough to handle. Get everyone in a room and have an honest, no-holds-barred chat about what's really going on. By shedding light on the elephant, your team can start to deal with it, bringing back that vital energy to your retrospectives. You'll be amazed at how a bit of open conversation can get those creative problem-solving gears grinding again.

To wrap it up, "The Elephant in The Room" is like a secret weapon for any agile leader. It's a way to pull those hidden issues into the spotlight, encourage discussion, and get the team back on track. It's all about being open, getting back to problem-solving, and reminding everyone that agile is all about continuous growth. After all, even a big old elephant isn't so scary when you start to talk about it!

How to Run the Elephant in the Room Retrospective

  1. Introduction: explain the activity, and enter Meeting Mode to enable private sticky notes. The team may want their contributions to be anonymous, so you can also turn on "Hide Identities".
  2. Add stickies: each person adds one or two sticky notes for their issues, and what impact it is having.
  3. Share issues and cluster: reveal all sticky notes and group similar items.
  4. Vote and discuss: hold a vote to find the top 1-2 issues to discuss.
  5. Reflection and action: if action items are decided through the course of the discussion, write them down and assign an owner and due date.

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