Bringing Improv warm-ups to a Scrum team

A month ago I’ve mentioned that Improv Techiniques come in handy. Here are two recent cases where I’ve used it.

Getting to know new team members

Last month, I stepped in as the temporary scrum master for my team. The team had three new members, so I figured I’d try a warm-up I learned at the Improv workshop to help the team members get to know each other a little more as we started our Sprint Retro.

The warm-up consisted of the team sitting in a circle. I started by saying my name and a couple of things I’m passionate about. The activity continued on with every person doing the same. Once we went around the circle, I asked a random person to choose from a number between 1 and X (“X” being the number of people in the circle). Then I asked another random person to choose left or right. I finally asked everyone to stand up and move the chosen number of seats in the chosen direction.

Next, I say my name and things I’m passionate about, except that I’m impersonating the person who was seated in that spot before. The group quickly understands what’s going on, and we go through the circle like that.

In this activity, it’s very likely some people will realize they have no recollection of what the previous person seated on that spot said. It’s a good and fun way to learn how to pay more attention to others.

Listening everyone to the last word

Last week, I’ve started an 8-week Improv class, learned another warm-up techinique, and once again, brought it to our sprint retro, spending about 5-7 minutes on the activity.

In this warm-up, the team stands in a circle. We go around the circle, each person saying one word. The words don’t have to be associated, but we do observe the following behaviors:

  • Some people end up getting biased by the word they have just heard from the previous person;
  • Some people end up spending a lot of time thinking up of a word. Why is that? Maybe trying to come up with a “smart” or “funny” word?

Next, we do the same activity, but this time, we say associated words.

We then move on the the final activity: making up a sentence, one word at a time. One person says a word to start the sentence, then each person in the sequence says a word to contribute to the sentence. When a person in the circle feels like we have a sentence, she can end it by saying “alright, alright, alright”. At that point, the whole circle joins in and says the entire sentence out loud. The person who decided to close the sentence then says a new word, starting a new sentence.

This last warm-up is great because, besides being fun and lifting up the mood, it helps learn to:

  • Listen to every word said, all the way to the very last one. You can’t make up your mind after listening to the first word and blanking out on everybody until it’s your turn, as the other people in the chain may change the direction of the sentence completely with their associations and interpretations;
  • Work together as an ensemble, creating something as a group, building it by adding to each other’s ideas.

The experiment continues

I have another 7 weeks of Improv classes and I intend on trying our more of those techniques in my daily life. I’ll keep you posted!

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