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Emotion Cards for Agile Teams

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lIlya Pavlichenko, agile coach and professional scrum trainer (PST) from, describes usage of emotion cards as an effective tool in the toolbox of any scrum master, agile Coach or trainer. Emotion Cards are a set of cards showing common emotions like angry, anxious, confused, happy, sad, surprised, tired and worried.

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.

Edwin Dando, Consulting Manager at Assurity Consulting Ltd, mentions in his blog that the emotions of individuals impact the   team, which impacts the product, therefore emotions impacts the product. This is why leadership becomes such a critical aspect on agile projects. Behaviors are values in action and the leaders job is to demonstrate the values as behaviors in everything they do.

lIlya explains how scrum teams can use emotional cards as follows:

  • To start by asking everyone to choose one card that most correctly describes why that person is present here.
  • To get to know each other better.
  • To understand the topic of the meeting.
  • To understand the role of leadership.
  • Personal coaching by selecting cards that most accurately express your goal, opportunities, available resources and possible future steps.
  • Giving feedback.
  • To discuss a common vision and to construct a visual image of the team or company future
  • In retrospective meetings by selecting a photo that most accurately conveys teams emotions and feelings from the past sprint.

Similar to that some scrum teams use Niko-Niko calendar to keep track of the mood of team members during the sprint. The team installs a calendar on one of the room's walls. The format of the calendar allows team members to record, at the end of every workday, a graphic evaluation of their mood during that day. Over time, the niko-niko calendar reveals patterns of change in the moods of the team, or of individual members.Benefits of using this technique is described in a blog of Niko Niko App.

For teams who do post-project breakdowns, it can be a useful tool for looking back and reflecting on particular phases in a given project and evaluating trends throughout the project’s lifecycle. For management teams, it can be useful to see how a particular employee or group of employees is faring, and gives some early warning signs so that managers can intervene or schedule one-on-one meetings for team members who may be struggling.

lIlya includes emotion cards in his trainings. This is how he completes 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.

lIlya in his another blog mentions the usage of emotional flip chart. During meetings he brings a flip chart, which shows the six basic (6) human emotions like happiness, surprise, inspiration, sadness, anger and disgust. He hangs emotional flip chart on the wall and then suggest everyone in round robin fashion to recall any events from the previous weeks or months, associate them with emotions on a flip chart, then share the story with colleagues. What made you sad? When did you feel inspired? What made you happy?

More information about the emotion cards is available in the book A Scrum Master's Practical Toolbox written by Ilia Pavlichenko, Sergey Dmitriev and Alexey Pikulev.

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  • Useful exercise for Agile Retrospectives

    by Ben Linders,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Emotion cards can be used in agile retrospectives to discuss the feelings of team members. The mood of individual team members influences team mood which can have significant impact on the productivity of teams and the quality of the products delivered to their customers.

    To discuss emotions in teams you can also do a one-word retrospective exercise which is described in my blog post Feelings Matter in Agile Retrospectives ( and in the InfoQ minibook Getting Value out of Retrospectives ( When there are issues in a team that need to be discussed, I have each team member state how they feel about the past sprint in 1 word. Chances are big that at one or more words, with some questioning, triggers a discussion where things are spoken out about the team that often don’t reach the surface.

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