My Networking Experiment Retrospective from FutureStack15

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My Networking Experiment Retrospective from FutureStack15


FutureStack is for Data nerds.  And software developers.  Data analysts and techies.  I’m an employee engagement trainer and consultant.  So, I was not so sure I would ‘fit in.”  That’s ok – my goal for attending FutureStack was not to fit in, it was to offer value by being different.  But, I needed to find a way to show my uniqueness and connect with others.  This is how I came up with my Workplace Innovator Story Card experiment.  (Read this post about how I came up with Conference Networking 3.0)

future-stack-human-side-of-tech-2For two days I was mingling at FutureStack.  Many of the conversations were about containers and code.  Not so much about employee engagement and team management.  I expected this.

The Story Cards are bright colorful cards with 1 simple question on each.  The idea is to open dialogue around team management topics.  The questions are things like “What is the best way someone can express gratitude to you?” and “What do you do to express your creativity?” When teams become more agile, this usually means less managers. But sometimes important things like recognition and employee engagement initiatives can fall through the cracks.  I equip self-organizing teams with games and exercises to self-manage these important aspects of creating happy workplaces.

During one of my first conversations of the morning, I talked about the Workplace Innovator Story Cards, and the answer I got was “So, what’s in it for me?”

Hm… not exactly what I was hoping for.  But, I kept the “I’m experimenting” attitude and kept on trying new approaches.  Little by little my technique improved and people started jumping on.  The highlight was when I got my first surprise-contribution on Twitter.  I had left piles of cards around the exhibit room and Angel Chang had picked one up and tweeted it to me!  I felt validated and it gave me the boost to keep going.

Two simple YAY Questions for Workplace Innovators

I’ve had a few days to reflect on the event and conduct a retrospective.  To conduct a fast retrospective, ask good questions. To do this, I applied the two easy YAY! Questions, another fun concept from Managment 3.0 #Workout book.

The Yay questions are “What went well?” and “What was learned?”

These don’t seem like such amazing questions – but they are a lot more effective starting place than “How can I improve?”  When we focus on “improving” we immediately look at “what didn’t work and can be done better?”  By first asking “What went well?” I know what I need to keep doing.


What went well?


UNIQUE WORKS: Post Cards not business cards. People liked the size, the color and the graphics.  Something unique from the regular “job title and email contact” business card.

KEEP IT SIMPLE: The most popular cards were the simplest questions.

PEOPLE WANT TO FEEL CONNECTED: I met others at the conference who were relieved to find another “non-software” person who could talk about other sides of tech. Like, the human side of tech :)

BLEND IN-PERSON & VIRTUAL:  The future now is all about blending collaboration seamlessly between virtual and in-person.  This project definitely supports that. In fact, I have received a few post-conference tweets from attendees who I didn’t meet in-person but must’ve picked up the cards, yay, yay and YAY!

What did I learn?


BE BRIEF: My enthusiasm for sharing the project often caused an over-explaining habit in me. I was excited to explain the whole process but that usually killed the conversation. But keeping the “I’m just experimenting” attitude – I tried new approach.

After the normal ‘what’s your name and what do you do” question.  I came up with this effective (and brief-ish) answer:

“I work with Agile teams, but not in a technical way.  I’m not a scrum master and I can’t tell you how to improve your sprints.  But, if your team is unmotivated, and hates each other – that’s where I can help.”

This usually got a laugh and an interested audience.  The next part was:

“This project is about collecting stories and ideas of how to build happy workplaces. Want to fill out a story card and be added to the community?”

PRIVACY CONCERNS: People didn’t want their company/brand associated with the project.Workplace-innovator-future-stack

I found that most people were afraid to have their company name associated with the project. Understood, let’s keep experimenting.

Solution: Annonymous stories and photos – that’s not problem – so I let people hold the cards and not show their faces.


KEEP IT POSITIVE: Many people selected the cards that were more positive types of questions. “What something that has impacted happiness?” and “Your preferred job title?” were easy and popular.  Questions about improving working or changing things were avoided.  These cards might still be useful (in a training) but maybe not at a conference networking setting.

My Networking Experiment Retrospective in brief:

Equipped with the answers to my YAY Questions, I know that I should continue…

∙ Using colorful graphics

∙ Connect virtual and in-person

∙ Embrace my uniqueness

∙ Help people connect with others

And in the next iteration, I can improve upon:

∙ Length of explanation

∙ Encourage privacy

∙ Focus on the positive

What to expect in the Version 2.0 #WorkplaceInnovator Story Cards?


I’m feeling excited about the next iteration because I know overall this is going well.  A few tweaks to address some of the learnings and back to the experimenting.  

Better QuestionsI have decided to re-word some of the questions to be more positive-focused.  I want people to feel the questions are “Totally ok if my boss saw this.”  As much as I want to open up authentic dialogue, starting with ‘kosher questions’ is an ok place to start the conversation. We can dive into the bigger questions in a workshop, for example!

Color-Coded CardsI will color-code the cards.  I’ll create different categories of questions that might be better for different types of people.  For example cool colors (blues/purples) for techies, warm colors (yellows/orange) for HR and vibrant colors (red/green) for executives.

GamificationReflecting back on the blunt question from my first converation, “So, what’s in it for me?”  My idea was to do a raffle – everytime someone sent me a card, their name goes in a hat. At the end of a certain period of time I run a raffle and send out a copy of Management 3.0 book.  I’m still working on ideas for how to gamify this project.  Have an idea? Please share it with me! This is a collaborative project. 

Share yours now!

THANK YOU! FutureStack15 was a lot of fun!

A special thank you to Fredric Paul, I enjoyed learning about New Relic’s Analytics Everywhere initiative and the official office tour. As well as the awesome unicorn-hat crew in the Hacker lounge – it was so fun learning with you! And Customer Success, and registration team who were enthusiastic participants… and well, all that participated in my scavenger-hunt mission. ☺

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