Picture an environment where team members feel comfortable expressing themselves, taking calculated risks, and learning from failures without fearing retribution or humiliation. It's the bedrock on which innovation, collaboration, and growth are built.
AUTHENTICITY, EMPATHY AND BELIEF
There is room for emotions too. We all have a bad day now and again. And surely, the field is rarely in perfect condition. We may sometimes act in ways we wish we hadn’t. We may come across in ways we didn’t intend.
And that’s okay.
I want there to be room to express our emotions when we talk through challenges and plans. Building up the courage to be open about a personal problem comes with the assurance that our team is a sanctuary of empathy, where vulnerability is met with acceptance, and where each challenge is viewed as an opportunity for collective growth. In this nurturing atmosphere, our bonds strengthen, and our solutions become more ingenious.
I cannot be my true self without acknowledging my personal struggles with my peers.
For example, I have a neurological condition involving migraines. I am open about this condition with my peers and the public. I know that by doing so, I expose myself to ad-hominem attacks by people who disagree with me, which became evident in spiteful public personal comments like this one:
“We frequently encounter people whose cerebrum, it appears, is unfortunately awash with an abundance of metaphorical bovine excreta, a regrettable by-product of misconceptions and prejudices. BTW, I hope you are keeping up with your regular appointments with your psychiatrist. :-)”
“I’m not sure it’s a good idea for you to train large groups given that you may let them down if your migraine triggers.”
Fortunately, I received much more love and support, and I developed even more meaningful professional relationships and friendships.
We learn to value our relationships and personal integrity over disagreements and opposing professional views. Relationships over Principles.
Being a Scrum Master, and more importantly, as your true you, you can create a platform where others can believe in themselves (and they will help you do the same).
In the realm of complex adaptive systems, such as software development, fostering an environment of psychological safety is the cornerstone of achieving excellence and realizing the true potential of Scrum.
In the context of Professional Scrum, there is a bi-directional relationship between experiencing psychological safety and upholding the values of openness, respect, focus, courage and commitment - and the pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation.
I'm using this context specifically to underpin the importance of Scrum Values and empiricism in Scrum, which is central to my practice (counter to what many experience as whimsical Scrum practices where psychological safety is not fostered).
With Professional Scrum, I do not mean 'Scrum by the book' or 'true' Scrum. It is about how individuals act (as professionals), especially when conditions aren't perfect. Professional Scrum goes beyond what the Scrum Guide reads; it also covers fostering an environment where individuals can experience safety.
THE PILLARS OF SCRUM
Transparency is one of the pillars of Scrum. Teams feel safe communicating their progress, challenges, and concerns; to talk about the way things actually are, without sweeping the problems under the rug. They are able to articulate their impediments without apprehension. A psychologically safe environment encourages open discussions during Scrum events, fostering collective insights that drive continuous improvement.
Inspection is about being able to compare the current state of affairs towards a desired outcome. This may reveal expectation gaps. In a psychologically safe environment, team members are more likely to address deviations from the intended path. Discovery through development. Development reveals the unknown offering valuable data points. Instead of treating unexpected phenomena as shortcoming, they are studied together with curiosity - like true empiricists.
Teams enriched with psychological safety are more open to sharing and hearing different viewpoints. This opens up different possible routes towards a desired outcome. Teams that enjoy this level of safety are more likely to show courage to work through tough problems.
Adaptation thus becomes a professional Scrum Team's superpower. A Scrum Team is expected to adapt when it learns anything new through inspection.
Scrum Teams fail their way towards success. Each Sprint is a stepping stone toward growth. They self-manage as they dare to try new approaches and master new techniques to find better ways. When team members know that innovation is welcomed and failures are learning opportunities, they’re more likely to push boundaries and create even more valuable increments.
The professional nature of Scrum puts stress on a team. It provides a bar to pass. Yet, in an environment where psychological safety is nurtured, the fear of change is diminished. Scrum is a bar to pass- fear is barrier to overcome.
Teams that feel safe are more willing to embrace and enact change.
“A team consists of people under pressure to do their best. Conflict is natural and the team needs to know how to deal with the conflict and have resources to draw on when needed.”
— Ken Schwaber, Scrum is Hard and Disruptive.
THE SCRUM VALUES
A Scrum Master helps foster conditions where Scrum Teams can thrive. That involves creating safe spaces where team members can express themselves freely without fear of judgment. One way a Scrum Master can do this is by exhibiting vulnerability by sharing challenges and seeking help when needed. After all, Scrum is a team game, and you do it together. This demonstrates that vulnerability is not a sign of weakness but a stepping stone to growth.
As a Scrum Master, I felt the imposter syndrome. There were periods when I felt misunderstood. I also felt alone, like a third wheel. I was insecure. I wanted to know how I could be of value to the team and organization. I did so by inflicting help and enforcing change. I felt like I had to be the one with all the answers. I didn’t dare ask for help myself.
That wasn’t very helpful.
Today, I have helped Scrum Teams achieve more by doing much less and enacting more change, leading to better outcomes with less resistance. I could do it by remaining my authentic, courageous self. I mastered the art of actively doing nothing — through listening and stepping back, providing space to others. The keys to unlocking this were the Scrum Values.
Openness is the cornerstone of both Psychological Safety and Scrum. When team members are encouraged to be open about challenges, doubts, and uncertainties, they unlock a treasure trove of insights that guide the path of continuous improvement. It really is a way of being.
Courage is the birthplace of Scrum. Scrum begins with courage. When there is no courage, developers are complacent about the outcomes of there work. That means they disassociate the results of their work from their work. In the context of psychological safety, courage manifests in admitting when something isn’t working, seeking guidance, and proposing innovative solutions.
Courage also involves stepping up, presenting your work and sharing your knowledge and skills with your peers.
Courage manifests in teams working through tough problems while supporting each other. They dare to work when not everything is known or defined up-front. They do not wait for solutions, but they go seek them.
Focus is a state of being energized and in a state of flow towards a shared goal — without distractions. Without safety, teams may grow paralyzed by fear of judgment or failure. Without safety, teams may grow paralyzed by fear of judgment or failure, and individual members shift their attention elsewhere. Focus can be achieved by giving individuals the space, time and means needed to achieve their goal.
Commitment is where providence happens, meaning circumstances align in their favor, where their environment will provide increasing support, leading to favorable outcomes. Commitment extends beyond delivering increments. It involves a commitment to one another’s growth and success. There will be mutual support when team members feel safe to voice their opinions, ask for help, and share their limitations. The better your peers are supported, the better you will be.
Respect is the bedrock for trust. When members enjoy respect, it contributes to their sense of belonging, making them feel valued and thus safe. Scrum Team members learn to value their relationships over their differences.
Respect involves being able to hold each other accountable as professionals. Scrum creates a feedback-rich culture, where feedback contributes to growth and better outcomes. Feedback should function as a safety net, not as a spotlight of judgment of shortcomings. The many feedback opportunities that Scrum enables should not be abused to name and shame - but instead it is about helping each other bounce back from challenges toward higher levels of excellence.
When feedback is given as a gift with empathy, and received as such with an open mind we can become even better versions of who we are. That, in a nutshell, is what it means to be on a "Road to Mastery".