Two truths and a lie — pub retrospective

Do you want to run a pub retrospective with your team, but you don’t know how to start? Or, maybe you want to design one? Look no further.


Sometimes people ask me about things I did in the past they liked, or heard others praise. When I refresh my memories and share what I was able to remember, I can almost feel them escaping back into oblivion.

This is first post in series, and hopefully not the last, in attempt to capture what was about to slip.


Once upon a time, I needed to brainstorm a retrospective idea that I could run with a team in a bit more informal environment and still get value out of it, allowing team members to leave the room knowing with action points in their pockets.

I will share some of my thinking, just in case you ever run into similar situation yourself. Feel free to skip Design paragraph if you are only interested in how to run it.

Design

First, I needed to be aware of constraints.

Team lunches in a pub do not allow for deep conversations, there are no whiteboards, and usually there are two distinguishable time slots: before and after lunch arrives.

Whatever your environment is, list all the constraints you need to work with. For me, it was obvious that given limited time we have, retrospective need to have a theme defined upfront and since we are going to a pub to invest in team building, it would make a perfect theme.

Next, I needed to brainstorm activity which would fit within constraints. I didn’t try to reinvent the wheel and wanted the activity to be something people would accept as natural or even obvious.

What people do in a pub for fun might be different from what they do in a park, yet whatever it is, find it and brainstorm how to use it to your benefit. I picked two truths and a lie pub game and attempted to customise it to fit our needs.

Last, I needed to think about how I want participants to perceive flow of activity. How are they going to learn what is expected? What are the foreseeable pitfalls or misunderstandings? Do the transitions between actions in sequence make sense for participants?

Below is what came out of it.

How to run it

Essential props: index cards or post-its and pens or sharpies for everyone; one bowl or hat (even a box will do).

Setup phase (before lunch arrives): distribute index cards, pens. Introduce retrospective theme and reason it was chosen. Ask the team a guiding question which will help them to generate action points. Might be this one:

If you were an independent consultant, what would you advise team members to do in order to create relationships or make existing bonds stronger?

Give the team 3–5 minutes of silent time to think about it and write their answers.

Do a quick round-robin (around the table) and ask each of the participants to share their advice. That person has to read all his advice aloud and put cards into the bowl. Ask others if they have duplicates. Allow participants to create duplicates if they liked the advice shared (duplicates also go into the bowl).

As there is one more thing they’ll need to do before lunch arrives, you may ask them to focus on making it quick and efficient.

After all the advice cards were put into the bowl, ask all and each of participants to brainstorm three statements about oneself. One lie and two truths. Capture those statements on a card. On a separate card or post-it, write which sentence is a lie. It could be something like this:

I’ve never learnt how to swim.
I’ve met with Brad Pitt once.
I played guitar in a music band.

Aim here is to reveal information about their personal life they are willing to share and make it not too easy for others to guess which statement is a lie.

Game phase: Ask first participant to share three sentences he came up with. make solitary decision.

Rest of the group has to guess which one is a lie, and make solitary decision. They can ask clarifying questions in order to spot deception e.g. ‘What were the circumstances under which you met Brad?’ or ‘What was the name of that music band?’.

Riddle maker has to convince the group that all the sentences are equally true or false. At the end, group members will most likely discuss what they heard, and try to convince each other in order to make final decision.

If the group failed to identify false statement, they all draw from a bowl (card each). If they succeeded, then only riddle maker draws a card.

Repeat the exercise in a round-robin style until all the truths and lies were revealed. That way, when they leave the pub, their pockets will contain ideas and action points leading to improvement.

Eventual pitfalls

Things go south from time to time. Below is a list of risks I am aware of.

If you try this retrospective and run into other kind of trouble, please let me know, so we could warn others.

  • Advice given not applicable to everyone

Happens when advice or action point is directed to a particular person or role e.g. ‘Scrum Master could start doing …’. When such a card is picked by a person with a different role, advice becomes difficult for her to implement.

As a remedy, you can try asking the group what are similar things others could do, or how others contribute to a situation in a given scenario and capture findings on the reverse of the card.

  • Advice given is too shallow or too crazy

Depends highly on team dynamics and organisation culture. Too shallow ideas do not lead into notable improvements, while too crazy ones can scare team members and damage relationships.

As a remedy, you can introduce the following concept of comfort-discomfort zones and discuss limits with the team (during preparation phase). Agreeing on how many ideas in each of the areas participant is allowed/expected to create prevents from imbalance.

Comfort-discomfort zones

Customisation

You don’t need to run the retrospective the way it was designed. Rebels are welcome to play with the format. Below are the variations I thought about for a while, but never tried them and didn’t spend too much time thinking about pitfalls, so try it at your own risk.

  • Each participant guess a lie independently. You do not force solitary decision making, allowing everyone to choose what they think is a lie. It’s a bit less team building variant as people don’t try to convince each other and discussions are limited. I expect it to be quicker and on average, I expect more cards to be drawn from a bowl.
  • Put problems into a bowl instead of solutions. You don’t need to introduce retrospective theme in the beginning and setup phase is expected to be shorter, yet whoever draws a card from a bowl needs to promise one thing he will do in order to resolve it. This variation makes retrospective look similar to Lean Coffee.
  • Use different pub game. Like multiple headed monster, or never have I ever… Sky is the limit here, yet it comes with the price of redesigning the activity to fit constraints.

If you liked this article, like, share or leave a comment. It really helps improve the content and allows others to run fun retrospectives for their team.