Constellation – A Good Exercise to “Set the Stage” At Your Retrospectives

Hi guys, this week I offer you a small exercise that can be used at your retrospectives, specifically, in the “Set the stage” part. There are many different exercises out there that can be used to start a retrospective, but I particularly like this one. I learned it a few months ago in Lyssa Adkin’s workshop in Stockholm (Agile Coaching Teams).This is a great exercise for people who do not like or do not feel comfortable sharing openly their opinion/feelings, at least in the beginning of the project when they still do not completely trust everyone.

We begin a retrospective with a welcome to the team members and with setting an affirmative goal for the session and this is where the “Constellation” exercise can be used. Like I have already said, due to the cultural backgrounds or the personality of team members, answering some questions can be difficult for some, but this exercise can help, because people do not need to speak in order to answer questions. He-he, now you might start wondering, “How could it be possible to answer questions in a team meeting without speaking”? Here is how we can do that…

Start with making an open space, move tables and chairs around, if needed. Put an object on the floor and explain to the team that this object is the center of the Universe and kindly ask them to form a circle around it. Explain to them that you will read some statements, and while you are reading the statements you would like them to move closer to or farther away from the “Universe” depending on how true the statement is in regards to them. So, if they really agree with the statement they should move as close as possible to the “center of the Universe”; if they do not agree with the statement, they should step back away from the center. Once you read a question, let the team observe the “system”, as Lyssa said, “Let the system reveal itself”.

You can use any topic you wish for this exercise, e.g., “How mature is our continuous integration process?”, “How mature is our automated testing process?”, etc. Just choose a topic and ask several questions related to that topic and let them see where they stand. Like I said, they do not need to give verbal answers at all, they answer with the movements by showing their position in the “system”. You could do several questions until you feel a good vibe from the team. To benefit fully from this exercise, you could ask the team in the end: “Where were you surprised with the shape?” and let them talk to each other a bit.

As a next step, you can, for example, ask the guys to form small groups of no more than three people each and ask each group to write down what they think would be the most important issue to improve. Of these issues you could then routinely select the most urgent issues to be improved in the next iteration. After that just agree with the team who will be responsible for what and close the retrospective.

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Constellation – A Good Exercise to “Set the Stage” At Your Retrospectives
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Leave a Comment

  1. Reply

    Cool! It is like doing a human team radar :-). We did it today, in a distributed setup. Standing closer to camera meant bigger value. The thing we measured was “how much value do I get from time spent on retrospectives?” I got a really strong message about peoples feelings for these meetings.

  2. Reply

    Hi Luis, very interesting exercise. Thanks for sharing!

    • Shahab
    • April 23, 2014

    Hi Luis,

    Sounds great. I will facilitate a workshop with a quite large team ( ~ 20 persons)tomorrow
    I will definitely use this.

  3. Reply

    Hi Luis! Thanks for describing this! I liked it so much, I put it into Retr-O-Mat: Hope you like it :)

    • Reply

      Corinna, I checked your site more carefully now :)! Really cool stuff congrats ;)

    • Reply

      Hi Corinna, that’s a great list of retrospective techniques that you have! I saw that you also included one of the techniques from my blog. Thanks for including/sharing it!

    • Reply

      Thank you soo much ;)

  4. Reply

    Such great interaction this post sparked! Glad you created that, Luis. There have already been great pointers in the comments to make constellations really work well from Stephen and an extension into formal constellations from benlinders, so I’ll just add this one tidbit. It’s about facilitating the type of constellations your write about in this post.

    When I read a question or statement, I often say something like “Stand where you heart and mind tell you to stand.” or “Stand wherever it’s true for you.” Sometimes, when they are moving around, I will say something like “Any place you stand is OK. They are all acceptable.” Then, no matter where they stand and what my reaction is to it, I remain neutral. I have to work with my inner judgments and knee-jerk reactions reactions so that I don’t react in a way that shuts the honesty down.

    It’s important for the agile coach (as facilitator) to create safety and promote honesty. These are some ways I do it.

    • Reply

      Thank you Lyssa for the nice tips :). In the near future I will write more about some others exercises that I learned in Stockholm with you and Michael. That course was simply brilliant :). Thanks Luis

    • Daniel Ploeg
    • January 30, 2013

    Hi Luis,

    This reminds me of the gathering data exercise of Team Radar – but using people to physically map their measurement rather than on a board / chart. Although I haven’t tried it I think that this exercise is as much about gathering data as it is about setting the stage – what do you think? I’ll have to give it a try and see what happens.


    • Reply

      Hi Daniel, to be honest i thought about it quite a lot :) I fully agree with you. I would say it serves both purposes :) thanks luis

  5. I’ve done something similar using radar charts but I like the idea of getting people up and moving. Will certainly try this one.

  6. Reply

    Love the idea. I have a number of team members are always pushed to the back by the more vocal ones. Will give this a try at my next retro.

    • Reply

      Thanks Dillon, it would be awesome if you could let me know how did it go ;) Thanks. Luis

  7. Reply

    Thanks Luis for sharing this interesting retrospective exercise!

    I have done similar thing, with a so called (family) constellation with one the teams that I worked in. All team members took a role, either representing the team, or a stakeholders that the team interacts with. First we just took positions, to see how we feel that the roles relate with each other. Then a team member was asked to move, and other teammembers had to react to the movement, visualizing the interaction within the team, and with the stakeholders of the team. This exercise gave us a lot insights, which we used to improve they we way we worked, and to better server our stakeholders. I can certainly recommend it!

    • Reply

      NOW you’re getting to really fun work called Deep Democracy. Take a look at this link:

      And I highly recommend reading The Deep Democracy of Open Forums: to get some more detailed understanding for why this stuff works so well!

      And of course, if you want to become a practitioner of these kinds of exercises, check out — the Constellation and Deep Democracy exercises are both taught in their Coach Training courses. (Disclaimer: I am amping up to start into the certification program for Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching, so I have a bit of a bias.)

      • Reply

        Thanks Stephen :) I know about CRRGlobal :) This will be my next step, I want to take some training there ;)


    • Reply

      Awesome stuff :) i was thinking in doing a small retrospective exercise book :) :) to share with all of you maybe ;)

    • Joy Kelsey
    • January 24, 2013

    Thank you Luis – looks like a good way to get people starting to work within a team rather than on a team

  8. Reply

    Good article and innovative way to generate insights. In my experience so far, technical developers are shy and don’t open up easily. The technique suggested by you is a good way to trigger movement in grey cells.

  9. Reply

    Thanks for sharing! I have some further detail people may benefit from…

    I first learned this exercise from CRR Global during their Fundamentals ORSC Training class. In order for it to go well, and provide the kinds of insights you want (this is definitely an Insight Generation activity, not an Opener — it requires a lot of trust going in!), you want to pick your questions very carefully. The first should be the “establishing” inquiry: “How engaged are you?” The second should be the unfolding question: “How active are you right now?” And the third should be the resolving question: “How active do you want to be?”

    Also, don’t forget the debrief between each question. Be very careful never to call anybody by name. Just notice the way people ended up and ask folks to speak from their position: “Why are you standing where you’re standing and what’s that like?” You may want to notice that people are closer or further away and ask “someone” to volunteer from one of those positions. Don’t put people on the spot.. it’s a difficult enough activity as it is!

    The final debrief is where people standing near each other have a short conversation about what’s useful about that position. And then share out as a full group.

    There are a ton of subtleties to facilitating this particular exercise, and if you like it I recommend getting training!

    • Reply

      Thank you so so much for your valuable input :)
      I did learn it with Lyssa, but I am planning to take exactly that course that you mentioned :)
      Once again thank you so much for you nice and awesome feedback.

    • achim welker
    • January 23, 2013

    Great writing. Thank you for sharing this. I will try this during the next Retrospective. Even if our team consists only of 3 developers which know themseves quite good and don’t have any problem to talk to each other, it will help to bring up hidden impediments the people didn’t even know they existed.

    • Reply

      Thank you so much :) Like Stephen said, there are some important things in having in consideration. But I believe this is a great exercise.

      Please let me know how went ;)

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