Jessica Soroky Guest Post #6: 3 Steps to Create a Safe Team Environment

What do we all want?

Money? A spouse? A perfect house, with a perfect family, all paid for by our perfect job?

Take a deeper look, what do we really want? What do all those things provide to you?

They don’t give you happiness, but they do create safety.

3 Steps to Create a Safe Team Environment

As I watch individuals and teams apply Christopher’s The Responsibility Process™ I’m noticing a pattern:

The more safe an environment, the easier it is to apply the Responsibility Process.

Why is that? Think about what fear is attached to taking responsibility? Well, if we’re being honest, there’s a lot to fear in being responsible if the rest of your department or organization is not acting responsibly.

So what do you do?

Based on my own experience, I can tell you that you can create a safe environment — no matter how much or little power your position holds.

When I was a brand-new intern ScrumMaster with no authority, I observed my mentor Scotty Bevill as he taught responsibility, and with some trial and error, I came up with three simple tips to create a safe environment.

1. Make agreements on how to handle problems, because they will come up.

For my team, and eventually the department, that meant creating a baseline. We knew no matter how good we were at our jobs, problems were going to come up. So instead of focusing on how we were going to avoid them, we switched our focus to agree upon how we would respond to problems.

We agreed to practice the Responsibility Process as a team. When we were faced with a problem, we gave each other permission to make the others aware of where we were on the ladder.

2. Allow yourself to fail humbly.

Scotty showed me this rule by living it. When he first came to the department, he stood on a stage and told the entire staff that he wasn’t there to tear down their cubicles.

He was sure that the facilities department would take weeks or maybe even months to tear them down. Yet within days, a third of the cube farm had been torn down. The agency director wanted to show his support of the transformation and pushed the request to tear down the cubes to the top of facilities priority.

On a whiteboard that had been established as a department communication board, the staff had been given permission to post ideas they had or how they were feeling about the process.

So of course the quote, “ I’m not here to tear down your cubicles.” was posted on the board. Instead of taking it down, he owned his mistake and left it up there for months.

You will be surprised that when you show your team you are human too, and not a management robot, they will embrace your leadership much easier.

3. Allow your team to fail.

There are two parts to this rule.

Part one: To allow your team to fail, you must ensure they know they can fail without fear of persecution. For most companies and teams, this will be something new to them.

I worked in a state agency where for 18 months no one was fired or even written up. Yet, everyone was afraid that failure meant they would lose their jobs.

Team members needed to see that when they didn’t meet their sprint goal, it didn’t mean the end of the world. This takes time and patience.

Part two: When you see a team member fail, resist the urge to fix the problem for them.

If you fix a problem for team members, they don’t actually learn. They learn that you will fix their problems, so the next time something happens, they will most likely turn to you to fix it again.

These rules are nothing new.

I didn’t discover some uncharted leadership gem – but speaking from experience, practicing these three rules over time leads to increased trust and safety in a team.

When a team feels safe, it often leads to the team eliminating the box they put themselves in, and more innovation and creativity is a byproduct.

No matter your role — CIO, manager, director, chief, project manager, agile coach, ScrumMaster, developer — take a step toward creating a safe environment for your team by applying one or all three of these tips.

Jessica Soroky, CSM
Only 21 years old, Jessica is already a Certified Scrum Master with two years of practice in agile delivery and team leadership. She is also the youngest participant in the The Leadership Gift™ Program  and its growing worldwide community of leaders and coaches. After five years of non-profit development through Nellie’s Catwalk for Kids, Jessica continues her leadership journey in state government, not-for-profit, and private sector leadership studies.

Leaders and coaches: Get Christopher’s best team building and leadership strategies collected over two-plus decades of solving teamwork problems for smart people. Attend the acclaimed Creating Results-Based Teams workshop, or get this FREE Special Report while it lasts: The Five Flawless Steps to Building a Strong Executive Leadership Team.

Posted in Collaboration, Leadership, Teamwork on 10/16/2013 01:00 am
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