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Four elements of building responsible teams that are able to admit failure and work on it
Failure happens regularly. It's human to fail. We should not change "a problem" for "a challenge" if what we’re dealing with is really a problem. Same goes with failure. Embracing it instead of shaming enables learning.
Beating around the bush allows vagueness that leads to misunderstandings and more ambiguity.
I have heard this expression only a few times in my ten-year career as a Scrum Master/Agile Coach. Usually, what I recollect is a blame game or various forms of inertia:
“We’re blocked by XYZ”, “They don’t listen to us!”, “It won’t work, we tried it countless times”, etc.
You can see it during retrospectives which are flowed due to, well, being done in retrospect. It’s somewhat easier to explain things with external forces when they have already happened, and we want to forget the associated negative emotions.
Some companies take another approach - they shield their teams as much as possible from their environment, creating an artificial bubble.
the Product Managers are afraid of saying they are not happy with the work of the team,
nobody cares about the neverending functionalities that are rolled from sprint to sprint,
reviews where everyone is always happy and doesn’t comment on the work,
managers are afraid to speak their minds because the developers can quit.
All of the above create environments driven by fear instead of craftmanship.
True craftsmanship is built on transparency, knowing your responsibilities and acting on them, being helpful and doing the best work you can. If it’s not possible - seeking help from colleagues.
Asking for assistance does not mean speaking up and passively waiting for others to fix things for you.
How to create fail-safe environments?
It’s obvious it does not happen overnight. Some ideas to explore:
#1 Be clear on team expectations. Not only for particular roles. Some questions a team can ponder about: What does success mean? What are the expected behaviours a team should represent? What do other teams think of us? How do we contribute to the organization?
#2 Teach and reiterate failure as a vehicle for learning. Admit your own shortcomings. Normalize conversations about fu*kups and lessons learned. Form new habits from the latter, don’t just list them and forget. How? Check “Atomic Habits”.
#3 Reduce tension and listen more. Nobody wants to take a hit for doing something wrong. What if there was no ‘hit’ to take? Exchange finger-pointing for curiosity and on-request support. In terms of reaching for support - make sure it’s not a sign of weakness or escalation.
#4 Share the good, the bad and the ugly. Leave space. When sharing bad news, provide context and leave room for the team to take ownership. Ownership can’t be given, it needs to be taken. If you fill the space with ready solutions instead of having a conversation, you are only crippling the team. How? Check “Radical Candor".
Disclaimer: Failure is used here as an example. The word, in some cultures, might carry a lot of weight. This essay is not about using a particular term but keeping it real.
What are your ways to foster responsibility and craftmanship safely in your organizations?