White Elephant Retro

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A fun, out-of-the-box, non-sprint-focused retro, good for learning about other team members’ values, needs, and concerns.

Length of time:

For a group a 6, around 30 minutes. Time increases rapidly with more participants due to recursive nature of gift theft.

Short Description:

Team members open and steal hypothetical gifts, following the process of the horrible “White Elephant” holiday party tradition.


Can be done with post-its and index cards (one person per is sufficient) if run in-person, or using a spreadsheet if run remotely.


  1. Everyone thinks of one imaginary “gift” that a team member could receive. Gifts can be realistic (extra time off, eliminating certain projects, budget for something, leveling up in certain skills), or fictional (an extra hour in the day, ability to teleport, use telepathy etc.). “Gifts” could also take the form of something no one would want, like a fire happening while someone is on call. (Alternatively, the runner may think of the gifts in advance)
  2. Each person writes the imaginary gift on an index card and places it face down on the table, representing the “unwrapped” gifts. (If running remotely, enter gifts into cells in a spreadsheet and hide the text.)
  3. Following the rules of the “white elephant” holiday party tradition, people take turns unwrapping and stealing the gifts.
    1. The first person “unwraps” a gift (picks up a card or reveals the text in a cell) and reads it to the group
    2. Subsequent people can either chose one of the unwrapped gifts, or steal a revealed gift; if they steal, the person who was stolen from either unwraps or steals, etc. You can’t steal a gift that was stolen in the current round.
  4. The retro runner may find it informative to track how many times each gift is stolen overall, but this isn’t necessary to run the retro.
  5. Once the last person has gone (all gifts are revealed and everyone has one gift), discuss
   - Did you get the gift you wanted?
   - Why were some gifts popular or unpopular?
   - Did you ever feel bad when stealing a gift?
   - Did you find it hard or easy to decide which gifts would provide the most benefit?
   - What themes emerged among the gifts people imagined? What themes emerged among gifts that were popular / unpopular?
   - Were there some gifts that certain people were excited about that others didn’t want?


Alexander Roy: https://www.linkedin.com/in/aroy3