Johannes Thönes

Software-Developer, ThoughtWorker, Permanent Journeyman, Ruby Enthusiast, Java and Devils Advocate.

Safety Check in a Retrospective: How to Handle a Low Result?

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When the safety check returns a low result (e.g. lots of 2s and 3s) there are ways to react in a retrospective.


But how can you deal with low safety in a team outside the retrospective, e.g. in stand-ups or estimation meetings?

A few retrospectives ago, I had the feeling it was time to do a ‘Safety Check’ - grading the participants willingness to share from 5 (highest) to 1 (lowest). The result with 6 people was:

  1. -
  2. 2 people
  3. 3 people
  4. -
  5. 1 person

The exercise indicated that safety was an issue. I used techniques to continue the retrospective supporting people who are not willing to share ideas publicly (e.g. they could ask to not discuss a topic without revealing their identity). I had explained how I would react to a low level of safety before performing the check, so participants knew the result would not be a show stopper. The retrospective was surprisingly well received and we actually discussed a few things more openly than usual.

While I felt it was good to do the safety check, I’m unsure how to deal with the outcome outside of the retrospective. Before the team worked together under the unspoken assumption that it was actually safe to speak up.

I know there are plenty of good ideas out there how about to handle safety issues in a retrospective. Unfortunately, I feel I don’t have a good answer on how we can handle or improve the situation on a daily basis working.

What came to my mind was:

  • Talking to people individually and casually.
  • Running another safety check about 2 month later and discuss the result with the team.
  • Don’t take the result personally.
  • Don’t overreact. This has been a snapshot and maybe there are certain barriers to speak - but it’s not the end of the world.

What would you suggest?