Creating an area of psychological safety - Thu, Dec 31, 2020
Creating an area of psychological safety can help making Scrum meetings more productive
Creating an area of psychological safety
In this post I take a look at how creating an area of psychological safety can help making scrum teams mor productive.
Observing that something is wrong
While reading the book Coaching Agile Teams
, I was recalling some of the Scrum meetings I participated in as a developer.
One thing that I observed often was, that some members of my teams did not participate they way they could in these meetings. You could even say that they were holding themselves back. This made - especially the planning sessions - ailing, unproductive. And I was wondering why that was the case ?
Missing psychological safety
I think that one of the main reasons was that you could not really count on having an area of psychological saftey
in these scrum meetings.
We tended to discuss topics (like user stories) rather than engaging in dialogs acknowledging other member‘s arguments. Also people were interrupted frequently and saying something wrong sometimes or making mistakes often lead to the exploitation of those wrong doings.
This made people rather say nothing than having to bear the burden of being wrong or having to justify their opinion.
Dominant personalities / leaders
There also had been dominant team members / leaders in these teams that usually implicitly governed these meetings. Actually this sometimes even fet good (superficially), because you just did not need to get involved. The downside being that nobody actually got involved.
The team had long been working in a siloed organization with a strict separation between development and operations. This had lead in parts to a silo mentality
where people focused mainly on their work. This structure had only recently been broken up by forming an agile DevOps team as part of a DevOps Transformation
And although all scrum meetings had been done together, people tended only to be interested in user stories concerning their line of work.
Ways to improve
As I am trying to understand how to coach agile teams, I thought about how an agile coach could foster a more respectful and safe atmosphere in these kind of settings.
I came to the conclusion that a combination of sharing my observation with the team and having one on one coaching sessions with some of the team members would be a good starting point \Making the lack of respect and an area of psychological safety apparent to the team as a whole should already start a self reflecting process.
In addition having one on one sessions to encourage silent team members to express their opinion and to remind the leading team members of respecting others should help.
Furthermore it should be made more obvious to the team that the understanding of a user story is important for every team member and that there is “No such thing as a stupid question” .
Thinking about these kind of problems and the way to resolve them, I came to the conclusion that agile values like Openness, Respect and Courage probably are the most important ones. For an agile coach as well as for a well functioning team.