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Leadership, the Importance of Transparency, Trust and More

January 4, 2023

In this episode of the Community Podcast, Professional Scrum Trainer Sander Dur from Xebia joins host Dave West for a discussion about leadership where they delve into topics including the importance of building trust, transparency and psychological safety in Scrum Teams and organizations.



Welcome to the community podcast, a podcast from the home of Scrum. In this podcast we feature professional scrum trainers and other scrum practitioners sharing their stories and experiences to help learn from the experience of others. We hope you enjoy this episode.

Dave West  0:20  
Hello, and welcome to the community podcast. I'm your host, Dave West. And today, we have with us one of our professional scrum trainers PST Sander Dur from the Netherlands. He works one of our partners, one of our PSTs, one of our training organizations that work with called Xebia welcome to the podcast sander.

Sander Dur  0:41  
Thank you very much for having me, Dave, how are you?

Dave West  0:43  
I'm good, actually, I'm good. It's great to be talking to you. And actually, this whole conversation is inspired, or the sort of genesis of this conversation was, well, we had a conversation recently about leadership and some of the experiences you're having. So maybe we can tee this up to our our audience talk a little bit about the this challenge that you're seeing around leadership. 

Sander Dur  1:09  
Yeah, I've

seen this happening multiple times before, and not just some of the conversations that we had before. But in multiple different areas were very traditional management that is not necessarily open to change, it feels like Scrum is maybe more for the teams is not that supportive, becomes more of a lagging factor than the leading factor. While they should be supportive, and they could be in multiple areas, whether that's going to be psychic setting the area for psychological safety, or embracing that change in general. But if those kinds of factors are not in place, or misunderstood, it becomes really hard for Scrum teams to actually thrive. Why whereas scrum itself is an organizational change, and not just for the people in the team. And I think you're well aware of that is a very tricky thing to work with.

Dave West  2:03  
So let me see if I, I get the crux. Yeah, it is something that I've seen, but let me see if I just by repeating it back to you. So ultimately, what you're seeing in some of your clients, and some of the people you're talking to in the leadership roles, and that traditional management roles, in particular, middle management is that they don't think Scrum has got anything to do with them. Therefore, ultimately, not that they're in the team working on the work, but they create an environment where the team finds it quite challenging. You mentioned emotional, you know, sort of intelligence EQ, that sort of creating that psychological safety creating that, that that space for the team. Talk a little bit more about what what did I get it right, Sander, that was probably is that what you're sort of focused on?

Sander Dur  2:51  
I think that's an impeccable. So Correct. Yes.

Dave West  2:55  
Surprisingly impeccable. is probably one thing to say there are words not my Yeah. So then Okay, so let's so what are the what happens when this happens when you've got middle management in particular, that ultimately don't think Scrum is going to do with them? Still treat the team? Like they've always treated the team? And don't do don't do anything don't change at all? What happens? What's the negative impact of that? Do you think

Sander Dur  3:25  
multiple things are the most detrimental thing what I've seen happening, that's most consistent as well as that people don't feel safe anymore, either to dry or to bring up new ideas or to be open how they feel. Or, you know, feedback is one of the most important elements within scrum a feedback goes both ways. So whether that's within the team or to management, setting the environment, they should be able to say, Hey, I see this happening and it has x&y impact on us as a team or me personally. But if this is not a two way street anymore, then they'll be held back and they'd be kept at bay. And therefore their ability to deliver a proper done increment is been minimalized which is the whole purpose of Scrum. So I think that has has a lot to do with misunderstood role of leadership, how that should look like what the leadership means because leadership is not the same as management, right? Could be but it's not limited to just management. Therefore the the ability to deliver a proper done increment has been decreased. Therefore, they're shooting themselves in the foot yet wonder where the shot came from.

Dave West  4:38  
So, so let's just riff on on psychological safety for a second in that trusting the team creating that environment the team feels that they have the support to challenge certain practices, work in different ways, approach the problem differently and work together differently. Engage with Outside people differently. So why do you think I mean, it seems very sensible to trust your team, right? And it seems very sensible that you, you know, that you would provide safety for those teammates to be trusted in that. So why doesn't why don't they do that? What's the what's the issue? Do you think really sandy,

Sander Dur  5:21  
I think a whole lot of fear, whether it's fear of not being seen as the manager of all the fixer of all solutions, or just the fear of the unknown in general. And, you know, I'm one of those recovered management bashers because I used to point fingers at management and say, You're, you're the issue, until the point that I was recording a podcast with Jeff Gotthelf. and the E told me, We got to remember that ever since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, we've been training managers and bosses to do exactly that you manage their people and to be responsible for the success of these kinds of products or projects or whatever you want. And they're used to being the single branch, double neck. And now after, say, 300 years is the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, or trying to revert everything that they have been that we've been training managers to do. And they're not used to that managers are not used to that. And relating that back to middle management, as you mentioned, many middle management in my experience gets to that position, either by experience in their content in their field of contents, or because they're being promoted, because else they would the company, therefore, they're not trained to be managers. So they don't know how to deal with that yet. They're also not offered the right levels of support. So there's a whole lot of there's a whole new realm of failure and misunderstandings, and they're, I don't think they feel psychological safe themselves. But they also don't get the right tools to be equipped to deal with situations.

Dave West  7:00  
I mean, yes, it's, it's funny, I also used to bash the amorphous blob of middle management, and then realized, as you know, I've become more aware of the people that I'm working with and talking to, that they're in between a rock and a hard place in many ways. I mean, some of it, some of their fair is well founded, because of the environment in which, you know, the whole organization operates. And senior leaders are driving down, you know, when will it be done? How much will it cost? Why are you not delivering, you know, all the time hitting them, it's your fall, what have you done, et cetera. And, and also, the, the ridiculous lack of professional training and support that many, many middle managers have. It's a travesty, really, you get exactly as you said, Hannah, you you get really good at a job, you hit your pay top, or your pay scale, or top or your position, top and then or you just get promoted, because you're really good at your job. And then suddenly, you've got a different job. And even worse, you're good at the thing that the people that work for you do. And you want to tell them exactly how to do that. So how do you how do you fix that? Because I've seen these seems like massive systemic society, sort of career II type problems. How do you fix that?

Sander Dur  8:35  
I think it begins with awareness. Maybe this is a question to bounce back at you because you're a CEO and a product owner. How do you deal with this as a leader yourself?

Dave West  8:47  
I poorly probably Sandow right, you know, it's very, it's sort of like cobblers, children, you know, they sort of very bad shoes, you know. But I think ultimately, for me, it's about clearly articulate to focus on goals and outcomes, and to provide an environment that encourages the teams to work towards those goals and outcomes, and to continually focus on that, rather than the work. And it is very tricky. In fact, funny, you should say that, well, I recently went to a sprint review. And as, as the guy that funds it, it was really hard for my feedback, not to have ridiculous impact. I appreciate that. I realized that also as the person that hires everybody and pays their salaries. I'm like, in a really odd position often, because feedback could be constrained. You know, it could be actually like all that you have got to do that my boss told me and really often feedback is really just this is my perspective. What I saw use may see a different perspective. There's no such thing as the truth. So I spend all A lot of time thinking about that. And then of course, in the emotions of a sprint review, or daily or whatever, I end up forgetting it and, and have to then fix things afterwards. But ultimately, it's about understanding the impact of my position and role on the events and on the interactions and collaborations with the people. That's, that's what I tried to spend a lot of time worrying. So I asked more questions than I tell. And obviously, you're demonstrating that now by asking a really good open ended questions. I spend a lot of time reminding people of the hat or the stance that I'm bringing to the conversation. And if in doubt, I resort to, to Scrum, I can just emphasize the outcomes, the importance of the sprint goal, the product goal, and those things kind of help. Did that really answer your question? Oh, my, I'm questioning you stop that. But Did that answer your question? Sandy, it does make sense.

Sander Dur  11:06  
It does. There's only one thing that I missed that I've seen you actually do. Because, you know, we just came back from the face to face in Boston, where we were where we spent a couple of days, right. And what I've seen you do, what I miss with many leaders in their position is at the point that you don't know, you're going to be open and say, I don't know, I need help, I need your input. Setting that, um, that's leading by example to you can be vulnerable about that you're not even though some people like to be, you don't know everything, you can know everything, you can do everything. And you need other people for that, too. And you got to be able to say, I don't know, maybe I messed up. I'm sort of scared here. What do you guys think. And if you set that stage, that's going to rub off on people on a good way, in a good way, where people feel more treated like humans, and like, they can bring their emotions to the field, too. And say, maybe this is not working for me as I hoped it would. It has this effect on me. But if you've put that in place, it has a different that it creates a different dynamic. And I think that is what lacks a lot compassion and empathy. It's the being

Dave West  12:25  
vulnerable is a really interesting thing. Because to submit, I think you're exactly right. And, you know, and I, I try to do that though, sometimes my ego, and my arrogance get gets in the way. And that's just the nature of humanity, and particularly when you're, you know, CEO of, Master of all, you know, I see, but that thing about being, you know, sort of like being vulnerable, being humble, and I think is crucial. However, there is a flip side to that, that we have to be mindful of, and I am very mindful of sometimes safety isn't many levels, one of them is to is to trick is to know, the person that's ultimately going to pay my salary and protect will be there for me, you have to trust your parents, you know, and so you have to balance that that need for vulnerability and, and answering questions of I don't know, with a very clear focus on I know what the mission is, I know what our purpose is, I know what we're trying to achieve. I don't know how to do it, always. I have some experience, I have some ideas I can share. But it's balancing those two things, and getting it right, and sometimes you'll get it wrong. So what I tried to still do, and again, this is sort of is focused on that those outcomes focus on that mission, I accept that there's got to be a lot of vulnerability about how we do it and the solutions because they are going to be variable. And I accept that when we learn something new. We could change the mission. But I gotta believe that, you know, to use those sort of analogy, and we're going to climb that mountain, we're going to build that bridge. And then we realized that we don't need the bridge. Okay, we realized we didn't need that bridge. So we're gonna build this pontoon system or whatever. I don't know. Anyway, now I'm stoked. Does that make sense? I mean,

Sander Dur  14:21  
it does a whole lot and has to do with what you mentioned on the ego as well. It's an interesting thing, because as soon as you say, my ego or my arrogance gets in the way that lowers the bar already, like you're you're aware of certain things. And that puts you in a different light. You know, if sometimes people are arrogant, and they are aware that they're arrogant, but they don't want to do anything about it. Or sometimes they're just unaware of their their own arrogance. And then it becomes a challenge to make someone aware and what their impact is of those kinds of things. Because it can be very daunting for someone new He has less self esteem to speak up to someone who is either very overcompensating for their own impostor syndrome and become very arrogant about it, or just be very antisocial to put it like that. So it's a very delicate balance. And I think that's where the scrum master plays an essential role in setting that supporting to set that environment of psychological safety, right? To make other people aware also of the scrum values, but also take the empirical approach that this is not going to Yeah, you went to do to chip in?

Dave West  15:35  
I know, I just, I was just gonna agree, actually. But I also, I think you hit on something there that I think, I don't know, if our listeners, and I'm sure they will know this, but it's about transparency, right. You know, and being transparent, transparent, not just about the product, but to him about the environment. So somehow making that manager you know, in my case, Dave, we have an awesome scrum master. Oh, and, and, you know, he does a really good job of making my behaviors transparent by some sort of either cause and effect or some Any, any, any, he presents it to me, and I'm like, Oh, yeah. And he does it relatively quickly after after it happens. So it's still fresh in our mind. And I think that that transparency thing, sounder is it is super important, when you're helping leaders get out of their own way.

Sander Dur  16:30  
That means that Oh, and I'm assuming Oh, in here is very much aware that you'll take that feedback for something good, and not necessarily for being detrimental, or just to be picky or to nitpick or to put you down because there's, there's a mutual level of trust. How does that resonate?

Dave West  16:46  
Yes, exactly. It's all about trust, really, and, and, you know, he's, he does it very well, he doesn't do it, he doesn't, you know, obviously, he doesn't, does it with respect, he does it with, you know, humor, here, these are some of the things that I find, makes it easy for me to, to receive the feedback I when, when feedback is confident. When it comes from an angry place. I find it much harder to receive. And I don't know if that's universally true, some people might naturally you know, you have to shout at your kids to make them hear you know, but if it is, for me, if it's if it's wrapped with humor and respect, then you better I want to I want to be better tomorrow. I want to be better today. I want to be better in 10 minutes.

Sander Dur  17:35  
It's funny that you mentioned mentioned kids specifically because, as you know, I have three kids, seven, and twins of four. And yes, sometimes you have to shout to make yourself hurt. But this is I refer to this. The whole implementation of Scrum in the agile mindset. Often I was teaching my kids to ride their bikes, which they are now doing, they're my twins, they're they're learning to ride a bicycle. And you know, you can give them a bicycle without training wheels and CO grandmas Good luck by there's going to be a horrible experience. But if you you become the organizational training wheels and support them until the point that they are, they feel confident that they can do this on their own, but gradually guide them throughout on multiple levels, right, not just the team but also on leadership on setting the right environment, on the sea level, wherever anything that applies to the success of the scrum team, then you got to be that organizational training wheels. And it's a funny thing, because today I was with my youngest of the two twins. And twins, you know, she was scared to ride a bicycle on her own all my other one Nova, she just took off. And the only thing that it did to Luna. So she's, she's the one who is having difficulties. I just put my finger on her neck. And I didn't balance her out. But she took off on her own. And the only thing I had to do is just put my finger on her neck. So she felt support, even though I didn't support her at all, just the perceived feeling of that she is supported. Just make made her belief in herself. And that applies so much to organizations as well. They gotta be aware, and they have to know that even if something is being messed up or is not it doesn't go as smooth as they would like to have it. They're still being supported and whatever decisions that they make, even though the outcomes not might not be the most successful or the most desired ones. They still have the sense of safety that there will be support when things go south.

Dave West  19:44  
I think it's it. I think it's super important. I agree and I probably could do a much better job of that. One thing you tend to only hear from some leaders when things are going wrong. You tend to only hear from So many leaders, when they've heard something or whatever, you know, that sort of email, hey, we'd love to catch up. If you've got an environment where that is the case, then I think it ultimately isn't an environment that supports many of the values that you're talking about. So I actively try, you know, whether it's on Slack or whatever, you know, after a sprint review, I mean, it's random, and I'm not as good as this as I should be. I reach out to the teammates say, Hey, that was an awesome sprint review. Thanks for sharing that stuff. I learned a lot. You know, and, you know, not lying, I tend to always learn a lot, because, you know, I'm probably asleep when they told me what they were going to do before or something. But the, you know, I'm always learning. And so I really, really do that. The other thing that I do, which I think everybody should do, but I think it's important is, you know, when you're on a sprint review, and we've all got back to back meetings, and we're all busy as all hell, right? But don't be doing email, actually give them the attention, do some active listening, you know, even if it's just for a percentage of it, you know, I, you know, turn your camera on, you know, those sorts of things can be very quiet, very, very minor, but they can really show, hey, I believe in this I, you know, I am supportive. And I think those sorts of things can can really help, though, you have to remind yourself sometimes to do them, and that, and again, a scrum master can be really important. Do you agree that sort of like, you don't just hear from a leader or manager when things are going wrong, is a very important part of psychological safety and trust and support?

Sander Dur  21:48  
Yeah, I fully agree with that. And I think also, you know, without discussing the scrum master being the catalyst of change, and you know, but even Scrum Masters need someone to be their mirror, you as a CEO need someone to reflect as well. It's, it's a continuous dynamic between multiple people, there's not just a single one who is involved with this and ensuring that this change happens. Scrum Masters need to have their their mirrors to. So I think that's that's a very small but important nuance. The leaders, even the people who are driving the change, need to have levels of reflection to mean the therapist sometimes needed it needs a therapist to

Dave West  22:35  
I think they all do. I don't know, that's kind of a role. I think I heard. Maybe that's just in America just to grow the amount of therapy being done. I don't know, which would be a great business model. Every therapist has to is like, almost like a Ponzi scheme. But no. So ourselves. Yeah, that's, yeah. And if I was, if I was hiring you, I'd say what you're saying, you were going to have to pay for somebody to provide support for you. Where does it ends? And where does it end? But no, would I agree, I think the having that key reflection moment, and, and being open to it isn't always easy. But I think is a crucial, crucial thing. So So we're coming to the end of the day, there's this very interesting conversation. We tried to keep these short and to the point, so somebody doesn't get ridiculously bored by listening to to the two of us waffling on, is there anything you know? So if, if I'm listening to this podcast, is the one to five things that I can do better? To, particularly if I'm a manager, or if I'm working with managers to sustain this change or drive this change? Is there anything that you would leave our listeners with Sandra?

Sander Dur  23:53  
Oh, that's a hard question.

Dave West  23:55  
I know that's, that's why I get paid the big bucks.

Sander Dur  23:57  
Yes. Well, you earned them. I think if you're gonna go and do this, my own therapist always says annoyingly, right. And I guess that's what I'm paying for it. She said, if you want someone else to change, you got to start with yourself. That's one. I hate him for that. But he's absolutely right. Yeah, too. I think this is a more practical thing. But I've noticed we've been doing this quite frequently, but it's super easy to do. And very helpful is start doing the trees exercise coming from liberating structures, on the levels of psychological safety because it's, it makes things very actionable, and therefore more tangible. I think that's the main thing. Also be very self aware of what you personally are doing to display these higher levels of psychological safety. This relates back to my first point as well. But be open about how you feel. You know, it seems to be such a societal agreement that When someone when you ask me how I'm doing, either I say I'm fine, or I'm doing great other than that there is no right answer. Because if you say, Well, I'm not having the best day today, it's like, Huh. So be open to these kind of basic human needs, I would say.

Dave West  25:21  
Yes, I think I think that, that they're great words of wisdom. Sometimes the noise of the day gets in the way, right? And it's stepping back and thinking, Hey, I've got 10 minutes between cause. Just going to reach out to ping somebody and say, Hey, how do you think that sprint? Never start with? How do you think that Sprint Review went? Because that's automatically implying that you think it went badly and said, Hey, I really enjoyed that sprint review. How did you know? So if you do lead with a question like that, make sure it starts with positive because otherwise you're, you're leading the audience a little bit. Or, you know, I'm really, I loved the points that you made on X, or Y, or whatever. And I think that little things like that, as a manager can certainly certainly help they go a long way to, to building those bridges. And at the end of the day, we're only as successful as our teams. And, you know, if we can't get our teams effectively working together to deliver valuable increments to incrementally progress our, our product goals, then then we're doing something wrong. So so this was really, really interesting. I certainly enjoyed continuing the conversation that we had that set the scene for this and, and, you know, I'd like to say, ladies, gentlemen, for our listeners today, this was the community podcast. My name is Dave West. And I was very fortunate to be here with one of our professional scrum trainers and from the Netherlands who works with one of our great partners. zbs. So thank you for taking the time today. Sandra.

Sander Dur  27:04  
Thank you very much for having me. Always a pleasure talking to you.

Dave West  27:07  
And thank you listeners for listening. Hopefully, we didn't bore you too much. And remember, it's, it's all about creating this environment and being true to yourself. So good luck, enjoy and hopefully listen to other podcasts. Bye bye.


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