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Use Emotional Cards to transfer emotions, not cold data

December 5, 2014


I want to tell you about a simple but extremely effective tool that definitely can find its unique place in the toolbox of any Scrum Master, Agile Coach or Trainer. The tool I’m talking about is a set of postcards or photographs.

But let’s start with a small backstory. During the last year I provided training in different cities and countries around the world. I often asked my students to write a few wishes for people attending the next class. I used postcards from cities or countries where the training took place and called those "letters to the future". However, having accumulated a large number of wishes written on cards, I still was not satisfied with them. Sometimes I used them at the start as a warming up activity, sometimes the cards were just lying on the table and noone cared about them. Every time I felt that I could not transfer emotions from one group of people to another.

Emotional Cards, images or photographs that express human emotions are quite a popular tool among trainers and teachers. Often they are used for studying languages and also in the treatment of patients with autism. Let's see how we can effectively use the emotional cards with Scrum Teams.


Effective start. Put down the cards on the table and ask everyone to choose one that most correctly describes why that person is present here. Then discuss it with your neighbor or the whole team. Participants can also share their thoughts on how the picture is consistent with their expectations of the meeting.

Get to know each other better. Everyone chooses a card that expresses an unknown fact about his personal life. How does the card explain our inner world? Maybe, our attention was attracted by two contrasting pictures? Share your insights with the team.

How we understand the topic of the meeting. Choose the card that best expresses the purpose of the meeting. Why did you choose it?

Initiative start . Choose the card that displays your understanding of the role of leadership and how you see change initiatives in the team. Tell and explain your choice.

Personal Coaching. Select five cards that most accurately express your goal, opportunities, available resources and possible future steps. Is there a picture that conveys our feelings about this? If we could change the picture, would would you like to change and why?

Giving feedback. Choose a card and give a feedback to your colleage during Retrospective, workshop or training.

Discuss a common vision. Select a few cards and construct a visual image of the team or company future. Explain what it means for you. How are we close to the desired state? In what areas should we have to work hard? What are the barriers (in the form of cards) are in our way?

Retrospective. Select a photo that most accurately conveys our emotions and feelings from the past Sprint. What worked well and what could be improved?


As an epilogue. Inspired by a variety of ways how Emotional Cards can be used, I decided to transform my old activity “letters to the future”. This is how I complete any training or Retrospective: 


  • Choose a card that reflects your feelings.

  • Choose an image that expresses your emotions regarding the meeting results.

  • Choose one card that transfers your emotions to the next group of participants.


Now I start the next training or Retrospective with sharing real human emotions instead of  "cold" urban landscapes on postcards. In the second part I will explain in more detail about the use of emotional cards in coaching sessions.

If you are looking for new tactics, tips and games for you Scrum, you can find a lot in my FREE LeanPub book "A Scrum Master's Practical Toolbox".


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