Here’s a great little retrospective game called “Elephant Safari” that takes less than 5 minutes, and whose whole purpose is to rapidly surface team issues – without addressing them.
Step 1: Every team member needs 1 elephant card, 1 boot card, 1 happy sun card, and 1 moon card.
Step 2: Explain the meaning of each card:
- Elephants represent “Elephants in the room” – issues that are unpleasant, important, but not being discussed (and that the cardholder is not volunteering to discuss either)
- Boots crushing flower represents moments of hurt feelings – events that the team member perhaps didn’t feel warranted feedback to their colleague at the time, but that happened nevertheless.
- Happy Sun-face represents no issues.
- The Moon represents an unwillingness to share, or feeling not sure where they’re at.
Step 3: Explain how to choose a card.
- If there is at least one Elephant in the room for this team, then choose the Elephant card.
- If there are no Elephants, but you got your feelings hurt in an interaction at least once since the last retrospective (and didn’t mention it), choose the Boot crushing flower card.
- If every thing is hunky dory for you, choose the Happy Sun.
- If you’re uncomfortable sharing, or don’t feel like any other card fits, choose the neutral Moon.
- This is all anonymous! Please place your chosen card face down in the feedback pile, and put the rest of your cards face down in the discard pile (take one minute or so to do this).
Step 4: After team members place their cards, the big reveal!
- Retro leader shuffles the discard pile without revealing the cards, to ensure anonymity
- Retro leader picks up the feedback pile and one at a time reveals the cards.
If your team has 1 or more Elephants in the room, you have some serious issues with psychological safety. Let the team sit with their new knowledge and offer a larger retrospective soon to make space for them to share if they wish, but do not ask directly who chose what.
Preserve the anonymity and do not coerce explanations of the chosen card! This is a critical opportunity to build trust and preserve your ability to gain insight into the state of the team.
In the same way, depending on the size of your team, two or more hurt feelings suggest that you may have safety issues. Two or more Moons is suggestive also of a lack of psychological safety.
Take this feedback into consideration when designing your next retro. There are lots of great ways to more thoroughly dive into and surface learnings, this tool just points out that such a retrospective is now needed.