Posts tagged safety
Agile Culture Part 5B - How To Enhance Safety

Last time we started to look at safety and what that could mean for your organisation. We looked at some historic disasters (and there are many more than those BTW, I wasn't short of examples) and how a lack of safety played into those. We also started to look at what we could learn from those disasters about the sorts of safety issues that could be lurking in your organisation. Today we'll continue looking at safety and how we can start to build a culture based on respect and trust. Before I do though, I should show you just how prevalent safety problems are in the workplace, because you may well be thinking "that can't be my organisation". Guess what, it probably is.

In 2018, The Australian Workplace Psychological Safety Survey canvassed 1,176 Australian employees and found that: 

Only 23 per cent of lower income-earning frontline employees felt their workplace was “psychologically safe” to take a risk, compared to 45 per cent of workers on significantly higher incomes.
A “psychologically safe” workplace is characterised by a climate of interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people feel comfortable being themselves to make mistakes or take risks in their work.

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Agile Culture Part 5 - Enhancing Safety

So far we have looked at four of the five aspects of agile culture:

  • Supportive leadership

  • Striving for quality

  • Becoming a Learning Organisation

  • Enabling people

If an organisation can embrace those four they will truly be an agile organisation. So if all they need are those four, why is there a fifth? The fifth aspect, Enhancing Safety, is in the list because without it none of the others can happen. Without a sense of safety, you won't get supportive leadership, you won't get a focus on quality, you won't get learning and you certainly won't get enabled people. What you will get is what you probably have now - people doing exactly what they are told, not asking questions, not challenging, not pushing boundaries, not setting challenging goals and escalating all decisions upwards. You will get an organisation that is risk averse (that's not a good thing BTW... a lot of organisations brag about being risk averse, what they really mean is that they manage risk carefully; being risk averse means being afraid to take any risks at all, like new products, innovation of any kind, process improvements...), ossified and incapable of change.

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Executive coaching part 5 - Control

For the last few weeks (interrupted briefly by the holiday break) we have been looking at executive coaching. We have taken a look at some of the big problems executives face and at some of the ways we can use agile tools to help resolve them. We have looked at resource planningcontrolling financial spend and estimating ROI. All these things, though, are manifestations of a more fundamental problem - the problem of control. Control is a real issue for executives. They are responsible for a P&L. They have business goals to meet. They have people under them to meet those goals. They are expected to be in control.

In a traditional environment they maintain control through their position as central decision maker. Any significant decision will be funneled up through them. In an agile environment we recognise that centralised decision making is slow and inefficient, so we decentralise the decision making for efficiency. The problem is that, to the exec, we have taken away their decision making (and therefore their control) and not given them any other control mechanism to replace it. Without some alternative control mechanism, execs in an agile environment will continue to rely on their old control mechanism - centralised decision making - to the detriment of the agility of the group. All the unnecessary steering committees, status reports, executive briefings, financial controls, and so on are all manifestations of this fundamental problem - how does an executive maintain control when they are no longer the one making all the key decisions?

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Blame Culture

Got a team that isn't performing? Won't raise issues in the retrospective? Acting like group of individuals rather than a team? Product owners constantly changing priorities mid-sprint? Scrum masters not protecting the team from interference? Team communicating via email instead of talking? That's quite a laundry list of dysfunction, isn't it? You would think you have a whole bunch of problems to solve, but if you are seeing all of these at once in a team that has been together for more than a sprint or two, chances are you only have one. It's a big one though. There is one really common dysfunction that can cause a whole range of problems. Usually, it's not a problem with the team, it's a problem with the wider organisation. What could well be to blame for your team's problems is...blame.

A corporate culture based on assigning blame for failure can manifest in a wide range of bad behaviours. The first casualty of a blame culture is trust. If everyone is frightened of being blamed for something, they will tend to start deflecting blame to others - "it's not my fault... Fred didn't get his part done in time...blame him!" Naturally, teamwork suffers as people retreat into self-protective shells and start communicating via documents and emails so they have evidence to back up their side of the story when blame time comes round. Naturally, this sort of thing makes teamwork pretty difficult. As soon as blame starts getting handed around, trust evaporates and with it goes teamwork.

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