Efficient teams: Why Psychological Safety is important in a Scrum Agile methodology. (1/2)

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Whenever I want to improve my results, as a person and professional, I find myself reviewing what I’ve already done, asking myself if what I did could have been done differently, if I should have chosen another path, if I did it well or not, if I should not repeat a certain action. Basically, what I could have done to get a better result.

This process allows individuals and teams to understand what must be corrected so that in future actions we are capable of better results; it’s a natural learning process often produced without realizing its relevance, with immense vicissitudes that can condition or even prevent the completion of the process, at least, effectively.

What’s scrum got to do with it?

In Scrum Agile, the Retrospective assumes a crucial role, associated with continuous improvement, naturally fitting into the work environment. As a rule, it is the last ceremony, the one that closes the cycle of a Sprint.

As described in The Scrum Guide (2020), the Sprint Retrospective ceremony aims to plan ways to increase quality and efficiency. During the ceremony, the Scrum Team inspects how the last Sprint went, considering the individual, interactions, processes, and tools, in addition to visiting the Definition of Done (DoD) artifact and its applicability in the Sprint.

With inspection comes adaptation, through the identification of changes and reflected in action points as guidelines to improve the team’s efficiency, with the aim of applying them as soon as possible in the next Sprints. This process enhances the improvement of the team as “know-how” and, therefore, is reflected in the delivery of value.

As a ceremony, it allows, in a structured and reasoned way, to approach the technique as a methodology, and the team to identify its points of action, observing, reflecting, and answering the three main questions that the ceremony proposes:

  • What went well during the Sprint?
  • What went less well during the Sprint?
  • How were issues resolved or not resolved during the Sprint?

In this way, it becomes relevant to understand to what extent psychological safety plays a significant role in the success of a scrum team and the results produced by the belief associated with it.

Transparency and Values: Teams Psychological Safety in Retrospective.

Since transparency is one of the empirical pillars, it’s essential to understand the value associated with it, since transparency allows inspection. Oversight without transparency is misleading and leads to waste.

In this way, Scrum applies a set of values ​​that guarantee the achievement of the Scrum Team’s objectives and reinforce transparency as a fundamental pillar in Scrum Agile. Respect, courage, openness, focus, and commitment are an integral part of Scrum Team members. They make it possible to strengthen interpersonal bonds and, thus, make people more capable and independent, being respected by the people they work with and facing issues with courage, no matter how difficult they may seem. These values ​​are guidelines for the Scrum Team in terms of its work, actions, and behavior.

To make a mistake is human, it’s natural and expected until mistakes occur during the Sprint, however, if we cannot see and address what went wrong, it’s because something is wrong.

In a context of self-protection, we are all reluctant to engage in behaviors that might negatively influence how others perceive our competence, awareness, and positivity. And while resorting to self-protection is a natural strategy, it’s detrimental to effective teamwork. Conversely, the more secure team members feel with each other, the more likely they are to admit mistakes, form partnerships, and take on new roles.

Therefore, we can see how Psychological Safety can help to understand if the Scrum Team is effective. Psychological safety is the belief that no one will be punished, branded as incompetent, ignorant, or even criticized for presenting ideas, assuming concerns and doubts about something, or even admitting a mistake. Psychological safety is influenced by four distinct factors:

  • Trust among peers, mental attitude to promote a comfort zone in the team.
  • Mutual respect, as a factor that leads participants to take care of each other and tolerate the way they deal with individual behaviors.
  • Constructive response, as a way of ensuring that the individual learns and improves when a problem is addressed, without feeling discouraged and excluded.
  • Confidence, as a state of mind in the ability to ensure that something is correct even in the absence of evidence.

This posture of mutual respect and commitment guarantees that the team is confident to take interpersonal risks, thus allowing it to determine more efficiently the points to be improved and to learn from mistakes in a constructive way, with the clear objective of avoiding future issues.

In a study carried out by Google called Project Aristotle, with the aim of understanding what makes an effective team at the company, it was concluded that it mattered less “who” is part of the team and more “how” the team worked together, that is, teams with a higher degree of psychological safety are less likely to leave the company, and are also more likely to take advantage of their colleagues’ ideas and thus add value, with a positive impact on delivery.

Within the scope of the study, five dynamic keys were identified that determine the success of a team, psychological safety being considered, by far, the most relevant of all. In this way, with the aim of supporting the teams, some suggestions were presented in the context of psychological safety, namely:

  • The group has a single voice, in which everyone participates without prejudice.
  • It’s natural to fail, that we can lose something.
  • The importance of curiosity, asking questions without fear of reprisal.
  • Develop new ideas, new points of view.
five key dynamics image teams

The five key dynamics that set successful teams.
Re:Work – https://rework.withgoogle.com/blog/five-keys-to-a-successful-google-team/

There are ways to create dynamics that help identify and increase the team’s level of psychological safety, methodologies and techniques that allow working on motivation together as a team, for greater involvement and acceptance as individuals in the group, whether in person or remote.The key to the success of a retrospective is to ensure that people are close and involved in the process, without prejudices, limitations, and self-confidence in an environment conducive to sharing knowledge and ideas. Here, psychological safety plays a fundamental role for the success of the Scrum Team, being an important dimension to consider in an organization, since it guarantees the satisfaction and integration of the individual in the work group.

Nuno Sousa
Business Analyst at Polarising


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