A Retrospective on Resilience
My family has experienced a lot of really difficult events over the past 2 years, including deaths (a lot of deaths…), moves, job changes, unexpected diagnoses and health challenges, and more. We’ve also experienced some wonderful events too, which have very much helped temper the more difficult ones. :)
Everyone deals with grief differently, and I’ve found ways to cope and practice resilience. But as a family that has experienced these events collectively, we’ve been focused mostly on the decisions, plans, and logistics that need to be made. In the middle of all of that, it is almost easier to push aside how we feel in the interest of not burdening each other while we deal in our own separate ways.
Last week, I facilitated a family discussion that I’m calling a retrospective on resilience. The goal was to enable us to share and learn from each other. It went really well, so I thought I’d document the process I used, especially since I couldn’t find anything similar online. The idea of a retrospective is borrowed loosely from agile software development, and the post-it activities are inspired by Sprint. I also thought about the book Emergent Strategy while I planned this — I love the idea that within our group, there is a conversation that only that we can have, if facilitated well.
I planned out the activity itself, listing out the activities I wanted to cover (see below)
I collected all of the post-its and sharpies I could find :)
I arranged a time and meeting location, keeping in mind:
The space would need some blank walls to put up post-its
We shouldn’t be hungry or thirsty when having tough conversations! So we had lunch beforehand.
I let participants know the general gist of the topics I wanted to cover, along the lines of “Hey, on Sunday afternoon after we have lunch, I want to take a step back and talk about the things we’ve been through as a family over the past couple of years. Does that sound ok?” (I regularly organize “brain trust” type meetings where we can get each others’ advice, so the format wasn’t totally new.)
After we had lunch, I:
Recruited a timekeeper
Recruited a note-taker
Two stacks of post-its: one blue, one yellow
I also had a stack of different-colored post-its for use during the first and last activities
I kicked off the retro. I shared my goal, which was to faciliate a conversation where we could share our experiences and learn from each other. I also shared:
The context of why I wanted to have this conversation (“So, we’ve been through a LOT as a family over the past two years. I started making a list of everything that’s happened the other day and realized that it was really long and even still I probably was missing some things….”)
A rough idea of the planned activities and how long it would take. I noted that they would each be timeboxed to about 5 minutes each, and the whole thing should take about 30-40 minutes.
I did not share:
The specific activities I’d laid out - I figured they might change as we go so didn’t want to set anything in stone
Any sort of outcome, because I knew better than to prescribe anything like that :)
I gave everyone a chance to chime in if they didn’t understand or had questions or didn’t want to do it.
Activity 1: Record all the life events
Tools: I pulled out the post-its, recruited the note-taker, and set the timer for 5 minutes.
Prompt: I asked everyone to name all of the major life events that have happened over the past two years (since September 29, 2017 to be precise).
The note-taker and I recorded each event on its own post-it and I put them up on a blank wall as we filled them out.
When we hit time, some of us shared reflections on how it was … a lot.
Activity 2: Identify which ones still have a big impact on us
Tools: just a sharpie
Prompt: I asked everyone to think about what which events, of all of the ones listed, still have the biggest impact (positive or negative) on their day-to-day lives.
People volunteered to name their three over the next couple of minutes. I added a big dot to the post-it with a sharpie every time it was mentioned.
In the end we had three post-its with the most dots. There was quite a lot of overlap.
I closed this one by noting that while all of the events were significant in some way, I suggest that we focus on the top three since most of us still feel an impact from them.
This was a natural point to take a quick water/coffee/bathroom break as a group. I removed all post-its besides the top-three so that the wall was pretty much blank and ready to use again.
Activity 3: Naming what helps/what is hard
Tools: everyone used their sharpie and stack of blue and yellow post-its. I set the timer for 5 minutes after explaining the activity.
First, I wrote the word “hard” on a blue post-it and the word “helps" on a yellow post-it and put them both on the blank wall next to the top-three life events.
Then I asked everyone to spend the next 5 minutes filling out as many post-its as they can, noting what is hard on the blue ones and noting what helps on the yellow ones.
For example, if I were talking about an illness, I could write “worrying about the unknown” on a blue post-it (it’s hard) and “spending time together and laughing” on a yellow post-it (it helps).
I asked everyone to hold onto their post-its for now.
I checked in on understanding/comfort level and we got started.
I filled out post-its myself because I wanted to be part of the experience even as a facilitator.
Everyone was pretty much heads-down for this one. Once time was up, we moved onto the next activity.
Activity 4: Sharing
Tools: the post-its we each filled out. I moved the hard/helps post-its to create two headers for where we’d place our post-its. I did not set a timer for this one.
Prompt: I suggested that we each share what was on our post-its and put them on the wall. I noted that I would group notes together if similar themes emerge. I suggested we could either read what’s on the note, give more context, or share whatever we’re comfortable with.
I got us started to break the ice. I put my post-its on the wall under the headers and left plenty of space for others. I let everyone else volunteer to go when they were ready. No pressure.
In the end we had a wall full of post-its clustered in several groups under each of the two headers. There was a remarkable amount of overlap.
We reflected on all of this together and it was really wonderful to hear what everyone had to say. (No specific prompt, just opened the floor and encouraged conversation.)
Some of the reflections were along the lines of “I thought it was just me, it’s so interesting to see we are all feeling this way”
Others were “I noticed this was happening but I didn’t know how to help. What can we do differently next time?”
And some were just, “I want to talk about this more.”
This was probably the most impactful activity we did. It was powerful to see that we all were experiencing similar things, even if they felt very specific to each of us. It was also really interesting to see where we diverged and where someone offered an idea that no one else had.
Activity 5: What’s next?
Tools: we used the different-colored post-its and sharpies. Again, no timer for this one.
Prompt: I suggested that we talk through what we’ll do to help each other out, now that we see how much we have in common. I loosely labeled these “action items.”
There was then a free-form discussion. The note-taker and I recorded ideas and posted them on the wall next to the topic they related to. For example, we might put the action item “pick up the phone and call” next to a “feeling lonely” topic.
We ended this activity, and the retrospective, with a set of about 10-12 action items. Some of them are more general, some are specific activities we want to do. For one of those in particular, we got out our phones and scheduled it.
I took pictures of all of the post-its in formation after Activity 5 and created a mind map afterward and sent it to everyone.
As a participant/member of this group, I left this discussion feeling less alone. I felt more connected, seen, and understood.
As a facilitator, this was a rewarding experience - I received feedback from each of my family members that they got a lot out of it. It felt cathartic. I made sure everyone knew how much I appreciated their candor and their willingness to participate.
I would absolutely suggest trying something like this if you have a group of people who are open to it. It will of course depend on comfort level.