Why do I need to play games in retrospective?

All of the teams I have worked with had come to understand that the retrospective ceremony is a necessary tool when wishing to increase effectiveness. However, many are still struggling to yield valuable action items in these meeting.

I (and every website on Google search) highly recommend using of games during retrospective meetings in order to achieve valuable results. And yet, I am often asked:
“How can I facilitate the retro meeting without these silly games? The team members find these to be a waste of time, and they are certain we can get the same results without them.”

The answer is Yes, and… You probably can, and in order to do that each team member needs to be skilled in creative thinking, able to stimulate and enrich his perspective on his own, as well as capable of challenging his base assumptions. Most team members are not skilled enough to do that.
Games helps us hone these skills, and here is the scientific explanation

 In the late 1960s Roger W Sperry, an American psychobiologic, discovered that human brain has two different ways of thinking. One (the left brain) is verbal and processes information in an analytical and sequential way, looking first at the pieces then putting them together to get the whole. The other (the right brain) is visual, and processes information in an intuitive and simultaneous way, looking first at the whole picture then the details. These halves are commonly called the right brain and left brain, but should more correctly be termed ‘hemispheres’. 

Right-brain is often regarded as more ‘creative’ vs. left-brain is regarded as more ‘logic’.
For example: Let’s think about a cat.
The left brain analyzes this information as 4 legs, a head, 2 ears, 3-6 kg. The right brain analyzes it as an animal, kind of a tiger, indulges, selfish, Egyptian symbol. Do you see the difference? 

While each person has a natural tendency towards one way of thinking, often the two sides of our brain work together in our everyday lives. 
Ask yourself the following question: “How do I get to the nearest supermarket?” 
A Person with a tendency towards left brain thinking will answer: “Go straight ahead 3 blocks (around 50 meters), then turn right on Diznigoff street. Advance another 100 meters, then in the corner with Arlozerov street - you will notice it on your right. The right brain will sound like: “Go straight ahead till you see the shake bar in front of you, then turn right (point to the right), pass the bank on your left, pass by the pizza restaurant and then it will be on the right.

Now, how is everything related?
I will take a risk and generalize that most of us (by us I mean knowledge workers) have a tendency toward left side brain thinking. It is important to understand that there is no right or wrong here; it is merely two different ways of thinking. By knowing what your natural preference is, you can pay attention to your less dominant side to improve the same. 
And this is where games, storytelling and metaphors can help - all of those are attending to our right side brain. Those games allow us to skip on what we have already known and analyzed (left brain) and open our mind to look at the situation from a different point of view (right brain). It also allows us to process new information that our left side brain literally can not see.

Let’s return to the main question: The answer is Yes. You can facilitate an effective retrospective without “silly” games - you just need to master your brain for that :)


What about you? Please share - Did you come across with similar situations? 
How did you engage your team for game activity?
Have you done any exceptional retrospective?  I (and all the scrum masters in the world) will be glad to hear about it also :)

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