Anxiety Party Themed Retro

A while ago I read about ‘Anxiety Party’ on the GV website and fell in love with the concept right away. If you are wondering what the heck is an anxiety party, GV website puts it in this way:

“a structured time where we could be vulnerable and get our anxieties out in the open.”

It’s a session where your team members (for a specific project, situation, or phase):

  • Gather in a room
  • Privately write their biggest anxieties on sticky notes or paper
  • Rank their anxieties in order of severity
  • Discuss each member’s anxieties
  • Then score other person’s anxieties (from 0 to 5, 0 being they are not bothered by that anxiety and 5 being they feel that’s an anxiety for them as well)
  • Lastly come up with a plan of action for the real anxieties which bothered everyone

The team which I’m currently working with are on a high-profile / high-value project. I noticed that few of us felt anxious about the sprint progress, project timelines, and overall project health. That made me think about running an Anxiety Party. As it was closer to the end of one of our sprints, I facilitated our Retro based on this theme.

I however, slightly modified the concept of anxiety party to better fit my team’s needs. Agenda for my retro was as follows.

1. What is your favourite car — an icebreaker to start the retro

2. A quick recap of the sprint

3. How’s everybody feeling

4. Anxiety party introduction

5. Write down your anxieties in rank of severity and put those on the wall

6. Put those anxieties in order of severity on the wall and come up with Action items

Let’s talk about each of those in details.

1. What is your favourite car — an icebreaker to start the retro

Nothing special about it, just wanted to start conversation with the team and to make the environment lighter. Randomly picked one person and went around the table to know about everybody’s favourite car. Overall Tesla X model got the most votes but people also voted the cars they own as their favourite cars — because those work J.

2. A recap of this sprint

For this, I took the team’s physical board (it’s moveable Agile wall for the team for the current sprint) into our retro room. Went through the cards which were completed (done) for this sprint and discussed the sprint goals which we had set at the start of the sprint (in sprint planning). We then discussed the sprint goals which we couldn’t achieve.

3. How is everybody feeling

Started with one person and went through the whole team to know how they are feeling.

a. Personally — this was more like a psychological safety check. Do they feel safe in saying stuff which need to be said?

b. About this sprint — What they thought of this sprint? How did we go? Does it make them happy / sad / angry?

c. About the overall project — Product Owner talked about the deadlines and to my surprise a few people were not aware of that (it kind of helped everybody understand the timelines)

4. Anxiety party introduction for the team

I then introduced the concept of an anxiety party is and how each member could write and talk about their anxieties (both for the sprint finished and for the overall project). One very interesting thing came out at the start of this was: people perceived it as a very negative concept and wondered why were we not talking about positive stuff. To ease that concern, I just requested them to run through the whole retro and then revisit the concept.

5. Let’s write our anxieties

Everybody then was given sharpies and sticky notes to write their anxieties on. Each team member then pasted their anxieties on the wall in the order of severity. For the sake of keeping it simple and organised, we have had Red, Amber, and Green anxiety categories. Red items made people felt anxious, amber a bit less worrisome, while green not so much.

6. Discussion about those anxieties and action items for them

Once everybody completed writing and putting their anxieties on the wall, we went through each sticky note and came up with action items wherever applicable.

At the end of the session, people really were happy that we had this session. Some of the comments were:

  • Oh, that was more than a negative session, it really helped me think about things which I never thought of thinking and mentioning to the team
  • This was a good session, I never knew there are so many things pending which we never touched on before
  • I liked this retro as it compelled me to think about things
  • I didn’t know we were working towards that deadline. If we want to meet that deadline, we need to fix this and this and this (checklist of items to be discussed and need actions on)

I hope you liked reading this article. Have you ever run Anxiety Parties for your team or project? If not, would you like to know more about my experience so that you can run yours? Feel free to ping me as I’ll be more than happy to discuss this.

Cheers guys — stay agile.