As many projects out there, my current one has participants in a few different cities and countries. We usually have most of the people co-located, but a few weeks ago we needed to run a retrospective with people in Sydney and in Melbourne, so I thought it would be worth sharing the experience.
Our team is quite small (around 9 people) and Im sure a lot of what we have done would be impossible to do in a larger team (I guess the next question would be why do you have a larger team.. :P), however just wanted to share the tools used and how it was all done.
Since we use skype for video communication, sharing a whiteboard would be impossible. The simplest solution found was TypeWith.me, an online collaboration tool that we projected on the wall.
We started by having everyone spending some time writing their ideas/observations on post its, but then instead of attaching them to the wall, we went around the table and everyone dictated their concerns, that were scribed in on TypeWith.me. After sharing ideas we went around again and everyone voted on ideas, which were noted on the online document again. Some reshuffling was done on them based on votes, and the we continued with the standard retro time-boxed discussions.
In general, I believe the retro had a good outcome. We didn’t lose too much time with the communication overhead and having the topics projected on the wall made it clear enough to both sides what was being discussed. Not trying to claim this was revolutionary in any sense, but if you are interested in running a small distributed retro, this might solve your problem.