Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Team Safety

How safe is your team? Is team safety important?

My colleague raised these excellent questions in a recent interview we conducted for our Scrum-master vacancy. Then this week I was challenged by some uncomfortable, but important, questions. Unfortunately, this was before I read a thought-for-the-week article on how Jesus invited questions. All this got me thinking about why team safety is important, and how we can improve it.

Why is safety important?

When people feel safe in a team, they are not afraid to ask questions. These may be curious, or knowledge-seeking questions, or they may be challenging, uncomfortable questions. Either way, these kinds of questions benefit both the individuals and the team. Such questions help build and spread knowledge as well as improve artefacts, processes and behaviours.

Safety can also be viewed as the absence of fear. People tend to be afraid of making mistakes, of getting things wrong. But we often learn by our mistakes. It’s only in taking risks that we make new discoveries (think of Columbus, Neil Armstrong) and move things forward. When people feel safe in a team, they have the confidence to step out of their comfort zone and take a risk, even if it leads to failure. They know that their team-members will support them, whatever the outcome.

How can we improve team safety?

A team dressed in safety gear
It's got to be more than just issuing hard-hats and fluro-vests, or books and training courses.

People feel safe when they trust each other. People feel safe when they respect each other. The excellent book, Team Geek prefixes trust and respect with humility (HRT - spoken as “heart”), which is also a vital ingredient for a healthy team. If you work in an IT team and haven’t read Team Geek, I highly recommend it - we have several copies going round our office (I did say more than just books)!

I’ve been very challenged this year (already!) by how to live out these values, firstly for myself, and, secondly, to encourage them in the teams I lead and am part of (be they family, work or social). As a leader and manager of a software team, my goal (as put by the Agile Scout, Peter Saddington) is to love the team and inspire them. Inspiring the behaviour and values that increase team safety is quite a challenge, but a vital one to engage with.

I feel like it’s going to be a long year! Perhaps it’s time for a retrospective, starting with a Safety Check? This great technique provides a safe way for the team members to share their comfort/safety level, ahead of the team discussing potentially difficult, “touchy-feely” type subjects. Writing this blog post actually led me to the Safety Check article, so for me, this post has been very worthwhile, and I’m starting to feel just a tiny bit more confident already!