Efficient teams: Why Psychological Safety is important in a Scrum Agile methodology (2/2)

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Organizations retrospectively see benefits that allow to identify improvements in productivity, capacity, quality, and when applied in a recurring basis, the positive change becomes evident in people’s lives, in the use of their skills, and in the ability to respond to problems.

The Retrospective exercise also enhances the ability to train the team in solving less comfortable situations, thus avoiding the escalation of unnecessary conflicts. It’s also a stage for celebrating the success achieved in the Sprint as a way of recognizing the work done and feel motivated . People become better, happier in carrying out their activities, and social interaction improves significantly.

But to efficiently obtain the best results, the Scrum team must feel accepted and included in the performance overall, as an individual and as a group. Therefore, we can ask: Is my Scrum team an effective team?

The data modeling solution

The use of structure in the retrospective favors consistency and organization, making space to a methodological culture of reflection. The adaptability of the models according to the needs identified by the Scrum teams and the encouragement for consistency (it is expected that the ceremony takes place every Sprint and with it the expected benefits), promotes the implementation of good practices in the team and consequently for improvement to be continued.

It’s important to consider the time needed to allocate each of the phases of the structure. As an example, we can consider the following structure and relative amount of time allocation for each phase:

FaseTime (%)
Set the stage5%
Gather data30%
Generate insights20%
Decide what to do20%
Close the Retrospective10%
Shuffle time15%

Adapted from: (Agile Retrospective: Making Good Teams Great)

The applicability of techniques in retrospect can produce quite satisfactory results. For example, we can consider the time spent to carry it out, that is, for a retrospective longer than 2 hours consider an interval of 10 minutes every 90 minutes. This coffee break is important for the team to regain their energy.

Being able to change your ceremony location can provide new perspectives. Typically, retrospectives take place in a Scrum team common room, allowing access to artifacts that the team often uses during sessions. However, the change of space, both physical and virtual (using online tools), encourages a change of perspective with non-standard interactions, avoiding the repetition or recurrence of the same processes associated with space and habits. In this way, a change of scenery enables new approaches and can act as a catalyst for the emergence of different observations or ideas.

Geographical distribution can impact psychological safety, as distant teams don’t collaborate as well as those in the same room. However, according to industrial organizational psychology, a work routine established exclusively at home or in the office strengthens commitment and personal well-being, without interruptions in the daily work routine and ensuring the balance between work and personal life.

To help with a more sustainable routine, the Scrum Master can find solutions that facilitate and enhance an environment of transparency, sharing and cooperating within the team, mitigating feelings of insecurity.

The future of Scrum

A possible solution to increase team involvement is to activate the video camera so that the team can observe each other while participating in work meetings or ceremonies, thus increasing the interaction and participation as if they were present in a Scrum room. Constant communication between team members on a day-to-day basis, whether via chat or audio, based on their activities and problem solving, strengthens social ties and, consequently, enhances the integration of team members.

The resolution of organizational impediments by the Scrum Master also contributes to increase the degree of psychological safety in the Scrum Team, as they wont’ feel so exposed to the stress of what they can’t control or know how to proceed.

The use of techniques to guide and facilitate the retrospective enhances the collection of data for inspection and subsequent conclusion of action points to be applied in future Sprints. For this purpose, the Scrum Master can always resort to different tools, from time to time, namely the use of DAKI, Meteorology, Timelines, Sailboat, Satisfaction Histograms, among other techniques, to capture the attention and involvement of the team, both in person and remotely. Bringing the team into the physical space and emotional check-in reveals an effective way to engage all team members, such as asking each one to share one word that describes how they are feeling.

The applicability of surveys to quantitatively determine the level of satisfaction of the team are also useful solutions. Responding to a survey anonymously allows you to know individual psychological satisfaction (How satisfied are you?) and collective psychological satisfaction (How satisfied are we?). This allows some time for an individual and informal conversation with the elements of the Scrum team, not only helping to qualitatively perceive the degree of satisfaction and comfort, but also providing the opportunity to resolve any type of dissatisfaction or conflict through understanding and ability to listen to what someone has to say.

It’s important to Retrospect

The applicability of methodologies and techniques can help strengthen the bonds between team members, involving them in the most critical topics, free of preconceptions and limitations related to lack of trust. Here, psychological safety plays a key role as a belief, and the involvement and acceptance in and by the team significantly improves outcomes and the delivery value.

The recurring use of Scrum Agile ceremonies during Sprints is extremely important for the intended success. And the Retrospective ceremony is responsible for ensuring that continuous improvement occurs in the way the team interacts and works in the Sprint, overcoming problems together and delivering the value they committed by accepting the stories.

Nuno Sousa
Business Analyst at Polarising


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