Challenging Team Agility using White Elephant Principles


Nov 13, 2018  ·  Tony O'Halloran


Has your team ever felt like things are going stale? Do you worry that you’re beginning to rest on your laurels?

None of the greatest teams I’ve experienced ever think that “good enough” is good enough.

Here’s a handy way to collectively challenge each other to improve in a constructive way. This can be used as a retrospective activity, a team reset activity or any time you want to spark some reflection on how you work together as a team.

Begin by printing out a set of Agile Principles cards (don’t worry, my colleague Sandy has got you covered) and create a large poster that the team will use to arrange the cards like below:

Challenging Team Agility using White Elephant Principles

Next, explain the rules. Everyone on the team will take turns doing one of the following:

  • Picking up a card, and placing it somewhere on the poster on the spectrum of “we do this well” vs “we need to work on this” with a one-sentence explanation of why
  • Moving a card that’s already been placed on the poster, again with a one-sentence explanation
  • Passing – meaning that they’re happy that the placing of the cards represents their team fairly

Only the person whose turn it is can speak. They don’t need to justify their decisions or statements. The whole point of the exercise is to allow contrasting opinions and perspectives to emerge!

Continue to take turns until everyone in the team passes.

Challenging Team Agility using White Elephant Principles

Often, the first round can largely be a non-event – look for surface-level discussions and a tendency to play safe. Set an expectation that the team will only get as much out of the exercise as they put in – now is the time to be brave and to aim high. The real value of the exercise comes when the team takes the opportunity to challenge themselves and move cards that have already been placed while sharing new perspectives. There’s no point in descending into a back and forth of moving the same card around, so let the team know that it’s completely ok to disagree – the whole point is to learn and encourage different opinions!

If you’re using this as part of a retrospective, try following up with a round of lean coffee around the principles that came out at the bottom of the pile to come up with some experiments to help you to improve.

Have you tried it yet? Let me know how you got on in the comments.

The structure of this exercise was heavily inspired from White Elephant sizing exercise, the earliest credit for which I can find is to Jochen Krebs.

Credit for the photo to isolik.

Categories: Retrospectives.