Last updated on | Agile Retrospectives

Constellation – Agile Retrospective Set The Stage Exercise

by Luís Gonçalves
Agile Retrospective Set The Stage Exercise


Hi guys, this week I offer you a small Agile Retrospective Set The Stage Exercise that can be used at your retrospectives. 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.

If you are interested in getting some extra Agile Retrospectives exercises, I created a blog post with dozens of Agile Retrospectives Ideas, check them and see if you find something interesting.

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 to respond to questions.

Hehe, now you might start wondering, “How could it be possible to answer problems 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 centre of the Universe and kindly ask them to form a circle 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 agree with the statement they should move as close as possible to the “centre of the Universe”; if they do not agree with the statement, they should step back away from the centre.

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 thoughtful 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 take full advantage of this exercise, you could ask the team at 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 matters, you could then routinely select the most urgent problems to be improved in the next iteration.

After that just agree with the team who will be responsible for what and end the retrospective.


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Luís Gonçalves

About Luís Gonçalves

Luis Gonçalves is an Entrepreneur, Author & International Keynote Speaker that works exclusively with Senior Executives of 7 to 8 figure businesses on the deployment of his game changing ‘Organisational Mastery’ Methodology.


Share your point of view

  1. 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.

    1. 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 😉

  2. 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!

    1. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

    1. 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.)

  5. 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.


  6. 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.

    1. 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

    1. 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!

  7. Hi Luis,

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

  8. 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.