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2013 - A Year in Review

For our final ‘all hands’ meeting of 2013 in our department, we wanted to do a ‘year in review’ activity that would engage all.

We plastered the length of a wall with a long sheet of paper [you can tape many sheets together but a long roll of butchers paper or brown paper works best for this]. We seeded the paper by marking in the months of the year as a horizontal timeline, and also a handful of events that had happened during the year such as the department turning 1 (Illustrated with a baby with a cake and candles), the Christmas BBQ and a few other events.

We piled coloured markers along the floor and asked the teams to gather in their ‘home teams’ or the teams they had spent most time with, to reflect amongst themselves about events of the year. We did the same as a leadership team.

We then asked the teams to capture some of their events, achievements and reflections on the paper, along with the instructions:
“Use colour, write big and draw pictures if you wish.”

The exercise inspired a hive of activity and here are a few of the interesting observations:
  • People couldn’t resist contributing; even as they were arriving in the room prior to instruction they grabbed markers and started creating pictures. It was self- explanatory and we didn’t stop them, as it was so cool to see them contribute enthusiastically.
  • Energetic engagement: We reflected the energy created in asking people to come to the wall and create pictures, rather than sit and write something down was a huge contrast. The teams swarmed all over the paper and found spaces in the months to recreate their memories
  • Alternate approaches: Some teams sat together for ages talking through events amongst themselves, whereas others just went straight to the wall
  • There was humor in the good and bad times. They captured moments that were both happy and sad; some gravestones for projects that didn’t make it, some airplanes with parachuting people for people that had left.
  • Discovered talent: The illustration skills revealed were surprisingly good, and found in unexpected characters. I witnessed highly technical folk pacing up and down demanding, “I need the red! Where is green?"
  • Evolution of the exercise: Earlier in the day we had the idea of asking them to mark their arrival date with their name and a star, but this morphed during the exercise and some people replaced that idea by sketching their avatars on the timeline. Then followed a suggestion that we use the start dates of everyone to create a visualization of team growth – an idea I think we will take up later.
  •  Inspection and adaptation: There were several other ‘build upon’ ideas that cropped up during and post the session that day; someone suggested we tape up the finished artifact underneath a blank one at the end of the next year as a reminder and repeat the activity for 2014. Someone else suggested that we come back on the first day of 2014 and sketch our predictions and vision for that year. The activity built upon each other’s creativity so well and inspired more creative ideas to surface.
  • Some people, in any situation, just want to solve problems and have outcomes. Later during the day many people commented to me that they enjoyed the session and wanted to know
    • What would happen to the mural we had created? Would we keep it?
    • Were we going to take any actions out of the exercise?
We hadn’t actually planned on what to do with the mural, none of us knew whether it was going to work as an activity or that we were going to create something of merit. I was surprised myself about how it went, I  expected to get a lot of words on the sheet rather than pictures but it was about 50:50 of each and looked amazing at the end.
  • No constraints: We had told the teams it wasn’t about capturing actions for improvement but rather an activity for reflection. I believe this gave people the freedom to put whatever they wanted on the wall without judgment or some expectation they would have to fix everything that was wrong themselves. It also encouraged the humour and irreverence in the finished creation, which I also personally like. Shared experiences both positive and negative are a bonding opportunity for team.
When most of the energy and contribution died down, many of us walked the length of the mural from January to December, it was a great way to reflect on all the events of the year, I was surprised by how many things I had forgotten myself. It was also interesting to see what was important to teams (usually different to what was experienced by managers!) and to see some slogans, team phrases and totems illustrated.

At the end of the exercise when only a few of us were milling around we carefully rolled up the long length of paper, made a few jokes about putting it through the laminator then handed it over to our General Manager in a faux ceremonial manner. 

I encourage any department or team, who has had a big year like we did, with plenty of growth, four new Agile teams established, dozens of software deliveries and plenty of bumps along the way to capture it all in ‘a year in review’ activity like this. Totally engaging and fun, a great way to ‘wrap up’ the year.


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