Retrospectives are one of the key activities that teams have in order to improve. As a facilitator its always exciting when you get to try new formats or ways of conducting one. The board game King of Tokyo is one of my favorite board games and I thought it would be fun if we could somehow use the mechanics of the game to conduct retrospectives. Here is how we did it.
What you need to get started
- King of Tokyo board game. The Power Up! expansion is not necessary but is nice to have.
- Space to conduct your retrospective where there is a table or surface in the middle of where the participants will be sitting.
- Your team
How to run the retrospective
The next sections will describe the different parts of the activity and how we did it.
Prepare the space for the retrospective
- Place the monster cards face up on the table. Make sure all of them are visible.
- Have the team sit around the table or surface.
Select your monster!
The select your monster activity serves as a check-in for the team and warm-up for the main event. We start by having each member of the team select a monster that will be their character for the game. The instruction is to select a monster that you feel represents you or how you feel about the last iteration. There are many ways that a participant can relate to the monster they choose. For those familiar with the game they might select monsters based on their skills and how those skills are similar to their personality. For others, they simply choose them based on aesthetics or because its cute.
After everyone has selected their monster they present which one they selected to the group then explains why that monster was chosen. The last thing to do would be to give out the monster tokens for the participants, remove the monster cards, and place the game board at the middle of the table. Once that’s done its time to move on to the next activity.
Time to play!
Explaining the rules of the game is the next step which is done right after everyone is done with the select your monster activity. The rules we used are as follows
- Each player gets one turn per round and the game will last a minimum of 3 rounds. After the 3rd round, the team will decide whether to keep playing or stop.
- At the start of a player’s turn, he or she will roll one dice. The result of the dice will determine the action that the player will take. The different actions are different types of questions or feedback that the player has to give. These actions are described below.
- The first player who rolls the claw will automatically enter Tokyo. After another player has rolled a claw the player inside Tokyo can then choose to leave and the player who rolled the claw will replace him inside Tokyo.
- All players who are outside of Tokyo will be giving feedback or answering a question related to the person inside of Tokyo. While the person inside of Tokyo will be giving feedback or answering questions with regards to the whole team.
- While the game is going on, someone from the team or the one facilitating the retrospective should note down the claw and energy feedback being given by the team. These will be used in the latter part of the activity.
The different actions
The dice has six faces but only three actions are used. The 1,2,3 numbers on the dice would be partnered with either the heart, claw or energy symbol. Here are the actions we did based on the dice:
Heart or #1
Heart in the game stands for recovering health. In our version heart is positive feedback you’d like to give the person or the team. Some examples of heart feedback would be: “Hey John, I really appreciate you helping me figure out that bug yesterday” or “I really love that as a team we play music at our desks and we get to bond over songs we like”.
Claw or #2
Claw in the game is the SMASH! action. In our version claw is our way of pointing out habits we should SMASH! or things we did or said that made us want to smash things. In short rolling, a claw would mean the player would have to give constructive feedback or something that can be improved on. Some examples of these would be: “Donald, you really need to run those unit tests before committing code. You broke the build three times last week” or “As a team, we all need to improve on writing things down. We always forget what we agreed upon!”
Energy or #3
Energy in the original game would be used to gather energy bricks which would allow you to buy cards that give you special skills. For our retrospective energy meant the player would have to propose an experiment to energize the team. Some examples of this are: “I think we should make a dashboard where we can check all our test environments” or “I’d really like for us to try having our stand up in the afternoon instead of first thing in the morning”.
Action items time!
After three rounds or when the team has decided to no longer play one more round its time to start the last part of the activity. The last part is where the team goes over their claw and energy feedback and decides what they feel most strongly about and discuss action items they’d like to do to address these.
Some variations to the format
“Open space” time before making action items
After the team has decided to no longer play another round we typically do an open space type of activity. We dedicate a small amount of time where the team can just freely exchange feedback with each other. This is to give everyone a chance to share something that they might have not gotten to because of the dice rolls.
Changing seats after each round
This is one way to get more combinations of people giving feedback to one another. For example, if Tom takes his turn after Gina then it would be unlikely that Tom gets a chance to take an action directed at Gina. Shuffling or changing seats after one round helps mitigate this.
Loading the dice
Since the numbers 1,2,3 are partnered with heart, claw or energy then we can easily load the dice to get more targeted feedback. For example, a team that is going through a rough time might want to agree that 1 and 2 are heart, while 3 is claw. This increases the chances of them giving positive feedback towards each other and lifting their morale. The flip side of that would be a team that is doing very well might want to load up on claw and energy so they can get more ideas on how to push themselves further.
Can’t stay too long!
In one smaller group where we’ve done this, we’ve agreed that if a player completes one round without getting kicked out of Tokyo then that player gets kicked out. This was to avoid one person getting all the attention during the retrospective and as a way to balance the game in the chance that no one rolls a claw for one round.
Re-roll the dice
We’ve tried allowing each player one re-roll for the whole game. This added a layer of strategy for some, where they’d re-roll to avoid giving feedback their uncomfortable with. For others, it added some comedic value when someone re-rolled and got the same result anyway. This worked best when they didn’t know we would have some open-space time in the end.
Some key learning we’ve had
- The uncertainty of the dice gives a sense of excitement during the game. This keeps people interested in what the next roll of the dice is. This also extends to people being excited about their turn. So keeping track of how long it is before it’s their turn again is something that’s important.
- Having the dice tell us what kind of feedback to give makes us step out of our comfort zone and give feedback we might not normally give. An example of this would if you had certain members of the team that don’t talk often, they’re also not likely to give feedback towards each other. This gives them/makes them do that.
- The energy/experiment feedback is always the one people have the most problems with.
- The inside Tokyo gameplay mechanic allows people to be more personal with feedback. This is something to watch out for while facilitating the retrospective as some people might not best at giving claw feedback towards other people. Thankfully I’ve never had a problem with this.
After doing this with several teams I’m inclined to use it again in the future. I’ve found that just the image of someone walking into the retrospective holding the King of Tokyo box is enough to get most people interested so that’s always a plus when doing retrospectives. As with all formats, this one isn’t something I’d use every time as the novelty would wear off but it is one that I feel would energize teams or at the very least pique their interest.
To read more about retrospectives, how to facilitate them and dealing with tricky situations check out my book The Agilist Field Guide.