The best enabler of Psychological safety?

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Being comfortable in your role is an excellent enabler of Psychological Safety and makes you more inclined to speak up. To be comfortable is not the same as to master the role, but to understand the expectations and be open and transparent about the skills you must get to fully master the role one day – and a plan to get there.

When I say role here, I primarily think about the role of the product owner (PO), the spider in the web for any software delivery. In sports we can relate to the PO as the club manager. If we can coach the POs to be comfortable in their roles as the big bad bouncers of shitty requirements, much would be won. However, most often the POs have too many other responsibilities. Consequently, their priority to make sure we work with the right things doesn’t get the full attention or is even neglected. In these cases, I find the RACI matrix[1] useful as a tool for a first discussion as to who does what, but not as a contract to fall back on in order to find a scapegoat when/if shit happens. The simplest version is a high-level sheet with a maximum of 10 horizontal tasks and four vertical actors. First all actors fill in how they see the actual present state for themselves, and then we compare the sheets to get a common view on where we stand today, which will open up to great discussion opportunities. Example:

RACI examplePOTeamTeam lead
Approve vacationCRA
Approve salaryICR
Hire peopleCRA

R = Responsible         A = Accountable          C = Consulted           I = Informed

The discussion generates a mutual future view on our roles and responsibilities, and now you know what is expected and what gaps you need to fill. When the expectations on us are visualised and confirmed, it is easier to say: “Yes, I am accountable for this task, although lacking the special skills for it, I will strive to fill that gap”. You can have in print that there are some more miles left to go before you will manage to master the expectations of the role description now created. And if shit hits the fan, you can go back to the RACI and remind people of it. But beware of accountability in a Psychological UNsafety environment as it tends to be the reason to get fired if you screw up! So, best throw the RACI away when you have mapped your gaps versus the expectations – and don’t use it to dodge work that is on “others’ plate”. It is still a team effort.

This is a part of the book Psychological UNsafety from the trenches you can order or read more about here.

[1] Responsibility assignment matrix: