Restoring safety


Here is a question for the coalition. How does one introduce safety into an organisation where the developers have had that contract severely violated?

This is not my experience atm. I was in a conversation with a colleague working in another organisation. He has been tasked with getting a product team on track, but it sounds like the breakages of faith have been many and manifests.

Devs have retreated to a place of programming on whatever takes their fancy and are actively afraid of talking to potential customers due to the requirement bloat that has resulted with every past conversation. The owner of the 7 person business is largely distracted by other concerns and absent for a good percentage of the time.

It seems from the outside looking in, that safety needs to be restored before anything can be refocused. I know that having a focus would help with the safety here, but when morale is so low where would you start?


Wow, that’s a tough spot for your friend. There is a lot of learned behavior in this scenario that needs to be unlearned at various levels. There is also a good bit of “it depends” here. Assuming the leadership tier agrees there is an opportunity to improve (there is always an opportunity to improve) I’d ask for one team to work with directly. Remove as many negative forces as possible and have that team focus on something that is achievable in their context. I’d let them set about 5 working agreements the team themselves agree to without outside influence. I’d then do everything I could to make that team awesome individually and collectively. Call out the wins and position the issues as learning opportunities. When they achieve a goal, celebrate vocally. Make that one team awesome, then focus on the next. Eventually the psychological and revenu wins associated with the happier teams will start to reshape the culture.


I know not long after this response you wrote a more complete blog response, Thank you for the more in depth response.

I admit my acknowledgement of the lack of safety insight came from the Modern Agile framework. I appreciate the thoughts Joshua Kerievsky has pushed out to the community. I won’t go through all the answers you provided. Those interested in can take the time to have a read through (note to others: it is worth the read). You are right on the fact that there are months of bad habits to unlearn. Still, well worth the effort.

The one that caught my eye as I heard this from a couple of places was Establish working agreements or for others establish social contracts. I have started attending a LEAN/Agile coffee morning and was chatting to others about their experiences.

The collective wisdom has been wherever they have been established, the establishment has been very worthwhile, but the process felt quite awkward.

Some of the advice has been:

  • Create your own items as anything generic or foreign feel foreign and fall flat.
  • Keep them few (you echoed this in your chat)
  • During the establishment phase it is well worth revisiting them in retros
  • Stick them on the wall
  • Revise them if them if the don’t work for the team

After all the talk, I’m considering suggesting it to my team. It isn’t the silver bullet, but it a least begins to help the team find a framework for restoring safety and trust.

I’m going to have to read through your blog again, but thank you once more.