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Make safety a prerequisite!

engineering, blog

This blog post was inspired by our time at the Toronto Agile Conference 2017. Among all the precious topics presented at this conference, “Bulls*-t: Stop Telling me it’s impossible!” presented by Mike Edwards caught our attention and not only did we decide to share it but we also applied it to our real world!

What's the idea?

During his keynote speech at the Toronto Agile Conference, called “Modern Agile”, Joshua Kerievsky explained the four guiding principles of modern agile. These four principles clarify our purpose and guide us towards better risk management, greater capital efficiency, increased empathy and reduced busywork.

As scrum masters, part of our job is to be cautious about applying a new idea to our teams unless we’re sure that it is going to make their lives easier and happier. We all agree on the importance of the “Make Safety a Prerequisite” principle; however, when it comes to real world application, we are suspicious! How can we actually apply such an idea to a real-world team? With that question in mind, we joined one of the conference’s most engaging afternoon sessions in which Mike Edwards discussed HOW to make safety a prerequisite among a group of people.

The session started with a fear-provoking activity where each person learned how to load and unload a mouse trap. We then had to try unloading the trap with our eyes closed while trusting our teammate to instruct us. We should confess that it was a breath-taking activity and obviously a good choice to kick off the discussion on fear! Once everyone was in an emotionally stimulated state as a result of the activity, we were asked to write about our biggest fears at work. Each fear was then reviewed anonymously, discussed and categorized by the whole group, and we discussed how the team could mitigate each fear.

How to build trust!

Now for the action plan! Inspired by our experience at the conference, we conducted the following activity when we returned to the office:

Activity time: 2 hours
Activity type: Team building

Step 1: Conduct an emotionally provoking or fun activity that triggers fear (we had our team load/unload a mouse trap, and then do it blindfolded).
Step 2: Hand out Post-it notes and pens, and ask the participants to write down their answers ( one per note) to the following two questions: “What are the things you fear at work?” and “Where is trust at risk?”. Give the team 7-10 minutes to silently ponder.
Step 3: Read the answers on the Post-it notes out loud and anonymously. Ask participants to reflect on those fears.
Step 4: Ask the team to come to an agreement on how to address each fear.

For example, if one of the fears the team has identified is “not contributing enough to the team’s goal”, the team might come up with: “Share your work! And don’t feel obligated to finish your work alone!” as a way to address it.

Our team enjoyed the activity and came up with a lot of good ideas on how to improve our working environment. We believe this is a practical way to build more relatable and meaningful team agreements to which people will be more committed since these behaviors are identified in response to their personal fears.

Currently, we’re thinking about our next steps: how we are going to use the input from this exercise to help our teams continuously improve. A follow-up blog post is coming. Stay tuned!

Sanaz Sadooghi and Dimitre Dimitrov

References: An Introduction to Modern Agile by Joshua Kerievsky