Safe spaces in scrum retrospectives

  • Background:

    The development manager (my boss) and the scrum master like to introduce changes. My approach to changes is to ask why we need the change, explain why I think it is not useful (if it really isn't) and then solicit the opinion of all the members. In the past, the changes were accepted by the team and of course I co-operated. Recently though, as the team has gained a better understanding of agile, the trend has been rejection, even though the team waits for me to say something first (holdover from "don't question superiors" culture).
    In a private meeting, the development manager told me he feels that while my suggestions are valuable, I am inflexible because I always refer to the working agreement & my approach is abrasive and confrontational because I question every suggestion.
    He has ordered me to take communication classes but not to stop actively participating in the agile events.

    My question is: what is the best way to handle communication within scrum? How can an environment be created where there is discord in the team without members being punished for it?

  • I would recommend having a discussion with the whole team, the development manager and the Scrum Master present.

    The topic is: How much autonomy should the team have?

    Scrum typically gives the team a great deal of autonomy. This is because:

    • Teams that make their own decisions tend to take responsibility for those decisions and adopt them better
    • Teams tend to be closer to the problem and so in a better place to make decisions
    • Decision making often helps to develop individuals and so the capability of a team may get better as they make more decisions themselves

    However, a lot of organisations may be uncomfortable with empowering teams. Reasons for this include:

    • There is a command & control culture in place
    • There is a hierarchy that may be undermined by an empowered team
    • Accountability may lie elsewhere (for example, with your development manager) in which case there may be a disparity between accountability and authority
    • Job roles/titles may be undermined - is the development manager still a manager if the team is making decisions?

    The outcome of the discussion would be a decision of how much autonomy the team will be granted and how it will be implemented. At least with this approach everyone knows where they stand and there is less risk of conflict and disagreement.

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