When I was little I had a habit of standing too close to the TV and obstructing everyone's view. My Pop-pop would jokingly grumble at me, "You make a better door than a window." I would surface out of my tunnel vision long enough to settle down in a better spot in the room. The thing about doors is that you can only ever see one side of them; everything on the other side is hidden from view. It is through windows that you get exposure to both sides of the view. The closer you stand to the window, the more you see the scenery.
As I delve more deeply into Scrum, I am challenged to become a better window in pursuit of the pillar of transparency. At the core, transparency is about exposing the unseen: turning doors into windows, getting close to the window, and making the windows bigger. The more we see at every level in an organization, the more empowered we are to make informed decisions. The more empowered we are as individuals, teams, and organizations, the better we are at providing products and services quickly and with high quality inside and outside the four walls of our offices. Benefits of transparency go even deeper:
- Benefits to individuals: Personal autonomy, personal growth, genuine relationships, a sense of belonging and psychological safety.
- Benefits to teams: Team autonomy, supportive working agreements, good relationships internal and external to the team, a sense of work ownership and mastery, and empowerment to positively influence the environment.
- Benefits to organizations: Better knowledge at every level leading to better decisions, engaged employees resulting in more agility and creativity, lower employee turnover, trust that every individual is pushing towards the organizational objectives, and confidence that internal voices will speak up if the direction isn't the right or best one.
Rooted in Relationship
From a distance, transparency seems simple: openly communicate all facets of your work with everyone in your organization. As with most things in Scrum, the idea is simple but the practice is difficult without understanding mindsets and principles intrinsic to creating an environment that supports the idea. In most organizations, we create processes that help us get around the need to have genuine connection and relationships. However, transparency is built on trust and courage in relationships and requires an overarching ethical relationship mindset and approach. It is from this perspective that behaviors change to create healthy and genuine relationships that make the space for transparency to show up and broaden.
The mindset behind ethical relationships is this: Relationships are something we do, not something we have. In this context, relationship is a verb and not a noun. Every interaction, communication, and connection must be actively cultivated. Core to this are two principles: 1) People are more important than the system. 2) People should not be treated as things. Let's unpack these a little bit.
People are more important than the system
- Everyone should feel cared for and secure
- Serving the individuals in a system should be of higher priority than following process and policy
- Protecting the individuals inside the system should be of higher importance than avoiding risk to the system
People should not be treated as things
- People are not interchangeable
- Avoid dehumanizing language like "resources" in favor of humanizing language like "people"
- Decisions should be made by the person or people affected by them
Each action we take in a relationship is an opportunity to realize these principles. To get there, we need to protect three key behaviors of ethical relationships in organizations:
- Consent: the act of giving permission for something to happen. This is about you: your body, your mind, your choices.
- Agency: the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. This is about others; they do not need your consent to act because you do not own their body, their mind, or their choices. They do need your consent if their action crosses your boundaries.
- Honesty: Truth Telling, even when it's hard or scary. An indispensable part of consent. This is a responsibility to share what you know, who you are, and what the system is so that others can make an informed decision when providing consent. If you lie or withhold, you remove others' ability to consent.
Becoming a Window
The mindset, principles, and behaviors of ethical relationships are the key to becoming a window. We are challenged to express, as individuals, our inner self as well as our progress on work. The result is giving others insight into who we are, what we need, and what we're working on allowing them to step up and care for us as individuals and we, in turn, can do that for them. As teams, we are challenged to make visible how we work, what we're doing, and the struggles we have so that those on the team can participate actively and those outside the team can empathize and understand. As organizations, we are challenged to see each person and group of people as the greatest asset in our systems so that they are valued, engaged, and empowered.
It's not easy to be vulnerable and open in this way. Certainly, the glass in a window is easier to break than a door. Over time, the glass becomes tempered through honesty and trust. Skyscrapers full of windows built on courage and the strength of empowered individuals allow us to see the full landscape and weather any storm that passes our way. Change like this also takes time. How can you start to shift the landscape in your world? What small influence could you make? What would it take to make that change catch on?