Retrospective Facilitator Gathering

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Dealing With Dangerous Animals

Retrospective Gathering Boulder,CO 2009

What this session was about

Picture a rabbit stunned by the gaze of a snake. Here we go. Dangerous Animals are all around us in our professional life. I will spare the private life issues with them. They humiliate us, they block us, they make us sad. How can we possibly change this? Do we have to behave like the rabbit? Do we have to fight? Or are there other, apparently smarter methods to prepare and survive our encounters with bosses, alpha-males, power people?


  • Interference: A manager shows up at the end of a retrospective. Keep him at bay or risk him spoiling the results?
  • The Nightmare Monster: Someone we picture as highly dangerous since we could not talk to that person.
  • Bait and Switch: Our contract did not turn out to be what we'd expected it to be. Now we're in and expectations differ highly.
  • Fight: Trying to not contradict but not agree with. Get a standing without being expelled.
  • Speak Truth With Power: Don't be the messenger who's killed. Is our honesty balanced with diplomacy?


If we want to devise tactics and strategies, we need to understand what drives both the dangerous animal - predator - and ourselves - prey. Why are they behaving the way they do?

Why does the predator behave like he does?

Negative traits

  • Control as a sign of insanity
  • “Because I'm paying”
  • Know better syndrome
  • Combined power and stupidity

Awareness Issues

  • Unawareness of viewpoints and emotions of others
  • Wrong information
  • Disconnected from rest of process
  • Mutual expectations not set
  • Curiosity
  • No understanding of consequences of their actions
  • Position in danger?

Positive traits

  • Thinking in other dimensions
  • Self preservation
  • Fight to find own place


We need to apply several tactics in specific situations - as well as work on our general strategies to improve our inner strength, capability to adapt and effectiveness.


  • Breathe / Relax
  • Create Space
  • Deflect Attention
  • Have a personal backup plan
  • 3rd person view
  • Look straight into their eye
  • Maintain Integrity
  • Honesty
  • Examine your own reactions
  • Touch base on what is the goal
  • Talk to the animal
  • Get back to context
  • Ask questions to learn


The strategy that we formed in the session was aligned to a typical coaching project time line, from first contact to the closing activities.

Early steps

  • Know yourself
  • Clarify expectations
  • Clarify assignment
  • Define / deepen communication channels
  • Start sharing understanding early (goals, test first , charters)
  • Specify the exit strategy

Mid way steps

  • Make personal contact
  • Give it to them (deliver expectations)
  • Communicate animal instincts to customer


  • Check-in
  • Check understanding frequently
  • Training and practice
  • Keep aware of all org levels
  • Work on dependency
  • Ask more questions than describing answers
  • Build dialogs over time

Final steps

  • Define success as where we ended up
  • Debrief with client
  • Ask for recommendation
  • Drink beer


You can download the original pictures from the session here.

dealing_with_dangerous_animals.txt · Last modified: 2018/10/27 07:58 (external edit)