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Safety - the perquisite for Leadership

Many coaches suggest that teamwork starts with trust.  Simon Sinek would have us believe that there is a perquisite for trust: followers feel safe.


That feeling of safety builds trust, and that trust sets the environment for teamwork.

Do your team members feel safe?  If the project succeeds or fails do they still have a job on your team?  Answer no to that one simple question and you have your answer to why collaboration and teamwork is a challenge in your organization.

Work toward changing that and you are demonstrating leadership.

Did your software development organization follow the lead of many Agile companies and create a large open space floor plan with rows of cheep tables and expensive chairs?  Did this environment create the collaboration that it was intended to?  I've been in several companies recently that believe they have an Agile environment - this is far from the truth.  Let's look at what they really have and what they desired (or assume would arrive magically).

The desired behavior was the high collaboration that a team room space fosters.  Those team rooms are a success because the team is protected from outside influences, have autonomy of action (such as displaying team artifacts on walls/boards), have alignment of purpose from the environment to the culture to the project's goals.

When organizations try to scale this localized behavior to a large group - what is the first thing to be destroyed?  Safety!  Humans will not feel safe in a group of 100 - 150 strangers.  I've experienced this in a recent company.  We had small team rooms that were too crowded for the 6-9 people, yet they were functioning well and gelling as teams, collaboration was increasing, alignment and focus was driving good team work behaviors.  Then it all changed.  We moved to a new building/campus across the street.  The new space for engineering was one large floor open space with managers and directors in glass offices surrounding the table and chairs of the developers.  All safety was lost, trust dropped, teamwork came to a screeching halt.

CEO Rich Sheridan removed the fear and ambiguity that typically make a workplace miserable. With joy as the explicit goal, he and his team changed everything about how the company was run. The results blew away all expectations. Menlo has won numerous growth awards and was named an Inc. magazine “audacious small company.”


Do you enjoy NPR All Things Considered style deep dives into a topic? If you also love more avant garde story telling -- try the Agile Path - In Search of Safety podcast.

"A journey to define safety; we intersect story telling, interviews and in-depth research, talking us on a journey through abusive environments to improvisational theatre.  Learning about safety, engagement and what happens when they don't exist."


See Also:
book by Stephen Covey (the younger) The Speed of Trust
book by Richard Sheridan  Joy, Inc.

TED Talk:  How to build (and rebuild) Trust - Frances Frei
Trust is the foundation for everything we do. But what do we do when it's broken? In an eye-opening talk, Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei gives a crash course in trust: how to build it, maintain it and rebuild it -- something she worked on during a recent stint at Uber. "If we can learn to trust one another more, we can have unprecedented human progress," Frei says.


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