What Is Fail Safe approach at Work?

Scrum Teams are made up of people with different life experiences bringing together many valuable and different perspectives. Diverse groups are better able to recognize problems and offer more creative solutions than group of people with similar experiences.

But what if some team members don’t feel comfortable speaking up? What if they’re afraid to share their concerns or resisted asking challenging questions? What if they avoid suggesting innovative ideas because they’re worried about rejection? – this is an indication of Technical Debt (in our Environment – Not in our code, remember to refactor your working environment also)

A lack of safe environment at work has major business implications. When employees do not feel comfortable talking about initiatives that aren’t working, if the organization does not listen to these conversations, then it isn’t equipped to prevent failure. When employees aren’t fully committed to your new project or ideas or initiatives, the organization has lost an opportunity to leverage the strengths of all its talent.

People need to feel comfortable speaking up, asking basic questions, and disagreeing with the way things are in order to create ideas that make a real difference.

This also means as an employee we embrace conflict and speak up, knowing that your team has your back, and you have their backs.


Fail Safe environment is a belief that nobody would be punished or seen down or insulted for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.

When we have such safety in our projects and organization, one would feel comfortable being themselves. Employees would bring their full-selves to work and feel okay laying all of themselves on the line.


When a scrum team is characterized by interpersonal trust and a climate of respect, members feel free to collaborate and they feel safe taking risks, which ultimately enables them to implement rapid innovation.

A fail safe workplace begins with a feeling of belonging. Like all theories of human needs — which shows that all humans require their basic needs to be met before they can reach their full potential — employees must feel accepted before they’re able to improve their organizations.

Step 1: Inclusive Safety

Inclusive safety satisfies the basic human need to connect and belong with peers and superiors. In this stage, you feel safe to be yourself and are accepted for who you are, including your unique attributes and defining characteristics.

Step 2: Learnability Safety

Learnability safety satisfies the need to learn and grow. In this stage, you feel safe to exchange in the learning process, by asking questions, giving and receiving feedback, experimenting, and making mistakes. None should feel that any questions are non-value add.

Step 3: Do-er Safety

Do-er safety satisfies the need to make a difference. Each person should feel safe to use their skills and abilities to make a meaningful contribution.

Step 4: Challenging Status Quo Safety

Challenging any status quo inspires the need to make things better. One should feel safe to speak up and challenge the status quo when you think there’s an opportunity to change or improve or you believe something is not done the right way.

How can Scrum Master and Product Owner create a Fail Safe approach in their respective teams?

Think about it in terms of making incremental changes that yield incremental wins. Scrum Masters can set the stage for incremental change by facilitating the Scrum Team to set expectations for factors that contribute to safety of thoughts and ideas. Doing so will help encourage innovation and radically different thought process.

With your team, discuss the following questions:

• How will team members communicate their concerns about something that is not working?
• How will you respond to failure or bad news?
• How do we raise sensitive issues?
• What are the norms for managing conflict with in the team?
• Are you willing to accept creative, out-of-the-box ideas that are not well-formulated?


While Scrum Masters and Product Owners play a role in shaping their team’s culture, it’s up to each team member to contribute to a fail-safe environment.

A culture is defined by “the way we do things around here” and we all have a role to play in how we do things at work — both on our teams and in our organization.

Developers can take the following steps to promote productive dialog and debate:

• Ask powerful, open-ended questions, and then listen actively and intently to understand feelings and values, as well as facts.
• Agree to share failures, recognizing that mistakes are an opportunity to learn and grow.
• Ask for help, and freely give help when asked.
• Embrace expertise among many, versus a “hero” mentality.
• Encourage and express gratitude, which reinforces team members’ sense of self.

Most importantly, positive interactions and conversations between individuals are built on trust. Show empathy in the workplace by giving your team members the benefit of the doubt when they take a risk, ask for help, or admit a mistake. In turn, trust that they will do the same for you.

Scrum Masters should be investing in strengthening the quality of dialogue across the team and the organization. Remember, better conversations will lead to a better culture. Improved conversational skills, combined with a fail-safe environment, will yield employees who are more willing to share unspoken reservations and proposed solutions that are stress-tested more rigorously before implementation.


At first, it may seem that it’s harder to promote fail safe approach when employees are working remotely. How do you establish trust when interpersonal conversations have to be scheduled in advance and conducted through a screen?

On a LIVE virtual call, one has the ability to look intently at people, not just listening to their words, but seeing and feeling their emotions. In many cultures, it can be awkward to stare at someone for 30 seconds or certainly minutes at a time. But on a LIVE Virtual approach no one knows who you’re looking at, and your ability to apply your emotional intelligence can be enhanced.


Remember, the goal is to create a safe place to work where team members aren’t worried about feeling rejected for speaking up. When that’s the case, not only does interpersonal risk-taking become the norm, but team members are also more adaptable in the face of change. In other words, they understand the challenges and opportunities that exist throughout the organization — and they see their role in making it a better place.

Scrum Masters – Take a lead in creating such an environment … Product Owners need to be supporting the Scrum Master to nurture such an environment … remember a team that is encouraged to take risk, speak freely, keep innovating without worry about failures, will produce the value that your customers would love. Leave the concept of improving your velocity (seems like this is the only metrics and KRA every one in life has – I mean all agilists), rather focus on the environment, culture, collaboration, communication (I know these are dirty and bad words – but believe me they will help you in your journey towards excellence) and would help you improve / increase our required throughput / cycle time / velocity

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