Yearly Summary — a cool Team-Building activity

Shay Mandel
5 min readSep 26, 2020

Building your team and increasing engagement is something every leader is thinking about. Here’s a simple activity that can help, boost morale, and provide your team with a fun way to do a retrospective and be happy about it. In those times of Corona, it is a cool exercise you can do online and gather your team around.

I usually do it close to the end of the year (Jewish year or fiscal year). You can choose the milestone that works for you, be it the end of a quarter, ending an important project, etc.

Ingredients

  • Sticky notes in different colors
  • Markers
  • A room that is large enough for your team to stand in and move around.

You can also do it virtually, using Google Jamboard (you have it available for free in Google Drive if you’re on G-Suite).or any other online brainstorming tool.

Preparation (5 minutes)

Schedule 1–1.5 hours with your team. It is recommended to set the agenda, and let people prepare in advance. But it is also perfectly ok to do it as a nice surprise. From my experience, it doesn’t change the results much.

Take 3 sticky notes and write on them: Functional Achievements, Technical Achievements, Misses.

Put everything on a wall.

If you’re using a virtual brainstorming tool, it will look something like this:

If you have multiple projects/teams — you can create such a page/area on the wall for each project/team.

What are the 3 sections for?

Of course, you can start with a blank wall. But from my experience, it is easier for people to be creative when you give them some anchors. I chose to split it into 3 groups:

Functional Achievements — those are the things you produced as a team that are tangible and visible to customers. In development organizations, most of those are driven by the Product Managers, and engineers sometimes feel that this is obvious, this is what they were told to do. Still, not every project succeeds, not every feature is completed. Listing it here shows the amount of work the team was able to produce.

Technical Achievements — sometimes called “non-functional achievements” those are the things that the customers don’t see, but the team cares a lot about them. It can be a new infrastructure that was built, a major refactoring that was completed, or a new way of work that was introduced. I often hear developers express their frustration about “not enough investment in infrastructure and quality”. During this exercise, the team usually sees that this is not completely true. But if it does, and this section stays mostly empty, this is a warning sign for you as a manager — you should probably invest more in this area.

Misses—this is the place for the team to air their thoughts about what they would like to see done differently. It is important to have this section, to enable your team to express what’s on their hearts, and for you to learn where you need to invest more. I saw interesting notes in this section, from areas in the code that should have been refactored and we didn’t get to that, all the way to an employee from another team that worked with the team for a while but they couldn’t convince to join them for good.
Seeing features that were planned and were not yet delivered may indicate that the team is very engaged and business-oriented.

The Exercise

Get your team into the room (or Zoom meeting).

(5min.) Explain to them the motivation — we want to look back on the year it has been, and see what we have achieved together. Many times we forget how many things we accomplished together as a team. By doing this brainstorm, people remind themselves of what they did and refresh their memory.

(15–20min.) Let the fun begin — each one grabs a sticky note, writes his thoughts, and puts it on the wall. This is a free form exercise — no turns or anything like that. Just let people go for it. People can organize and move/group sticky notes around as they see fit.

If you’ve split the group into teams based on team structure or projects, create Breakout Rooms so each team can talk between them while working on the notes. In a physical environment, this would be just a different area in the room, or different physical rooms.

(40–60min.) Go through the notes. Get everyone back to the same room (close the breakout rooms, or call people from the physical rooms). Start with functional achievements, technical achievements, and then misses.
Each team member will explain briefly what he wrote. Let the team a bit of time to reflect and comment on it. Make sure they all keep a positive attitude. If you have a cynical person in the room (each team has one, doesn’t it?) ask him to express himself with more sticky notes in the Misses section.

(5min.) Your summary. Usually, there is no much left to say. In most cases, people are overwhelmed with what they’ve achieved as a team. You probably already added your thoughts as sticky notes. But do have a few words of summary, and end with a positive note for the new year.

After the exercise, you can share the results inside your company. Or you can print it on a canvas for each of the team members to show your appreciation for their contribution.

Here is an example of the result for a team:

Example of a Team Jamboard after the session

Conclusion

In those times of online meetings that look very much the same, this is a great team activity to help people reflect and appreciate what they’ve achieved together as a team. With minimal preparation and zero budget, this is one activity you can do online or in the physical space and boost your team engagement and morale.

If you’ve done this and have more tips, please share in the comments.

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Shay Mandel

Software Executive and Entrepreneur in heart. Avid bike rider (MTB/XC/Road)