The Fragility of the Scrum Values

The following article first appeared on the Scrum Alliance Member Articles

To better understand the Scrum Guide, I’ve been deconstructing it by writing it longhand (yes, longhand — I’m a little crazy that way). I worked on the 2013 version of the guide, but I decided to backtrack a little, so I started with the section on Scrum values.

When the values of commitment, courage, focus, openness, and respect are embodied and lived by the Scrum Team, the Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation come to life and build trust for everyone.

This got me thinking about the Toyota House metaphor that has the foundations of commitment, courage, focus, openness, and respect. Its pillars are made of transparency, inspection, and adaptation. Then, we have the roof of trust.

To me, this is the Scrum Team House.

It has been a while since I listened to Patrick Lencioni’s audiobook The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. This book is one of those fictional management novels that tells a story to get a point across. After reading the above passage, I saw the connection between Scrum values and Lencioni’s work.

The five dysfunctions of a team

Lencioni’s book describes the following five dysfunctions of a team.

Absence of trust

This isn’t the type of trust whereby a manager trusts his people to do the job right, although this is part of it. This is the trust whereby a weakness, be it personal or professional, will not be taken advantage of. This is the kind of trust that makes you feel that your team members have your back rather than stab you in the back. If something goes wrong, they will not attack, criticize, blame, and shoot you down. Instead, they will help, they will encourage, and they will listen.

A lack of trust also leads to lack of respect for other team members. Would you respect someone who used your weakness against you? Do you show respect for someone when you have exploited their weakness?

Fear of conflict

Lack of respect causes fear — fear to voice opinions lest you be criticized. Fear to speak out when you think something is wrong or when you disagree with the team. Fear to try something new.

Things become opaque, convoluted, and complex. Knowledge is hoarded and ideas are not expressed. This lessens the team’s courage to lead constructive discussions and constructive conflict to help problems become openly discussed and explored for alternative solutions.

Lack of commitment

Fear leads to lack of commitment. Would you commit to something you had no say in? Would you commit to something you didn’t believe in? What you end up getting is compliance. People doing the minimum requirement. Work then transforms into being just a job — something you do for a paycheck. When this occurs, no one will want to take ownership of anything.

Avoidance of accountability

To avoid blame, finger-pointing ensues. Why would anyone want to take responsibility for something going wrong if you get in trouble? The blame game prevents the inspection of problems and thus the proper resolution to those problems. You will have one of two outcomes: Only superficial resolutions will be put in place, or the problem will be swept under the proverbial rug.

Inattention to results

We have a saying in Australia, “Head down, bum up,” which is a figurative expression for working hard (think of a child kneeling down on the floor, working in deep concentration on something like a drawing). So in this climate, people are working hard, just doing their job, not worrying about their surroundings, and not focusing on results. They do only the hard slog (another Aussie slang term for doing grueling work). The team cannot adapt if it has this mindset.

I can see now that the Scrum values are precise. They exist to help build a team that lasts. They provide the foundation for a high-performing team. But as we also can see from Patrick Lencioni’s work, it does not take much to tear down a high-performing team until it becomes a mediocre team or worse — a team, or at least some members, that actively works against the group’s best interests.

By simply removing the “roof” of trust, a team can deteriorate quickly, and when that trust is gone, it is difficult to get it back. If the cycle repeats, each time trust is lost, it’s even harder to regain it, until trust will eventually reach the point of no return.

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