Stress-o-meter cards for retros

I was talking to a friend of mine who is also coaching people at the moment. His team are currently distributed and working from home, due to the current pandemic.

We talked about how both the pandemic and the need to work with people you are not in physical contact with creates has an ongoing impact on energy and motivation. We get through a day’s work well enough, but I think it is like there is a small leak draining my energy during the day. Like a tap dripping in the background or a battery slowly running flat even when it is not being used.

It got me thinking about how there must be some constant low level stress going on in many teams at the moment and how some of the people in those teams (ie me) are not used to talking about feeling stressed.

I considered the need to simply have more honest and compassionate conversations. But that seemed to require maturity and effort, so I was thought about whether there was a lazy way to hold these conversations without me needing to become sensitive and hippy like.

That reminded me of some cards I used to use in my retros a long time ago that created a low stakes way of having meaningful conversations without having to say

“let’s have a meaningful conversation but don’t get stressed, we can keep it light and safe while I probe your feelings and reveal my inner angst at you”.

The conversation I am not very good at having

I am going to call them “stress-o-meter” cards because they are conversation prompts that focus on some of the things that you might not mention in a retrospective (or team meeting), but that might be draining your energy, causing you stress or just distracting your attention from what you should be doing.

Here is what one looks like:

An example of one of the cards

Each card is simple to use:

  • You give a card to each person (or draw one on a whiteboard)
  • Each person reflects back on the their week (sprint, day etc) and marks the card accordingly. Each card has two axis and so people will normally put a mark in one of 4 quadrants
  • Share what people scored each card and discuss the outcome.
  • You can also explore what to do about it in the next week, if you are so inclined. Sometimes that is really useful, but sometimes the discussion was sufficient and you can go back to more exciting topics like the accuracy and utility of your acceptance tests.

Here is what a card looks like, when completed.

A completed card

I have attached a document with a set of cards and a set of ideas for using them.

I’d be curious to learn whether you find them useful and whether you have any related suggestions for creating safe, low stakes conversations with your teams.

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