Fear is common in many workplaces. Theory X managers will often wield fear to try and whip their employees into shape, and motivate them to do the work they were hired to do. Threats of being written up, put on probation, fired, and subsequently losing your insurance, maybe your car or your house, not to mention your sense of identity and self-worth…
Fear is terrible. Fear stifles communication, prevents learning, inhibits innovation, and creates a work environment and workforce that is toxic and terrible.
A culture built on fear is not inherent in traditionally managed environments, nor are agile teams immune to the effects of fear. I think fear really comes from the top down, and any organization can have a bad leader.
What I like about agile is that it calls us out of fear, and if you’re doing it right, it encourages confronting those things that make us afraid and overcoming them.
When I write that “being agile means being courageous,” I mean that we have to be willing to say what we’re thinking. In a culture dominated by fear, if we realize that there’s something wrong with the plan, or a problem might’ve been overlooked, we might be hesitant to voice our concerns. Criticizing the boss my get us in trouble, and criticizing their plan may be like insulting their child. Being courageous means saying what we’re thinking (though notably, still being respectful and constructive), and going out on a limb to help our team be better.
It means being honest, and to some extent vulnerable. If we see a flaw in the plan, and we don’t point it out, that hurts the whole team.
Being courageous also means being willing to reflect and entertain the thought that we might be wrong. When someone criticizes us, or the plans we have come up with, we need to try and take our emotions out of the equation (at least temporarily) to determine if the criticism has validity. We can’t let the fear of being hurt, or the fear that people might disagree with us, keep us from figuring out how we can do better.
I feel like agile has this built into its principles and methodologies. This type of courage fights back against the ways of fear and can help us all keep moving forward instead of getting mired in silence.