Scrum Value Courage Starts with Vulnerability

Without vulnerability there is no courage. Full stop. Let that sink in for a minute. To be courageous you must first be vulnerable. What comes up for you when you think of that?

I’ve been on a major Brene Brown binge lately. It started this audio book on Hoopla, The Power of Vulnerability. Several audiobooks, ebooks and youtube videos later, I found that I’m integrating much of what she talks about in my life. Since I’m a major Scrum nerd, I see the powerful connection vulnerability has with each and every one of the Scrum values. Today I’d like to illustrate this connection with my favorite Scrum value: Courage.

In her book Daring Greatly, Dr. Brown defines vulnerability as:

Uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.

She goes further to say:

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity.

The Scrum guide describes the couragious behavior of the Scrum team as:

…[doing] the right thing and [working] on tough problems.

If the connection isn’t immediately apparent to you, consider these examples of vulnerability:

  • Asking for help
  • Standing up for myself
  • Admitting I’m afraid
  • Being accountable for results
  • Confronting negative or abusive behavior in others (and ourselves)
  • Trying something that hasn’t been done before

All of these and countless more are situations that Scrum team members face on a regular basis. If Scrum team members choose to armor up, close their hearts, and protect themselves in these moments they are not practicing the Scrum value of courage. Courage isn’t courage if there is no risk to you.

Before you say, “But Jason, it’s not safe for me to be vulnerable with my teammates or my organization! I know I’ll get hurt, thrown under the bus, or discarded as irrelevant, incompetent, unprofessional, etc.” You may be absolutely right. This is a big problem not just for you but your Scrum team and maybe even your entire organization.

If your Scrum team is not a safe place for its members to be vulnerable with each other, consider that you are always at choice. That choice may be talking confidentially with your HR department. It may be doing nothing, though that could be equally dangerous for your wellbeing. It could also mean choosing to leave and find a better environment. If you choose to stay and work the problem, here are a few suggestions. If you are not yet comfortable leading, find someone who is and talk to them about it. If you’re a leader then consider that others are looking to you to create an environment where they can be free to be vulnerable. You may un-invite those outside your Scrum team from your retrospectives, Daily Scrums, or Sprint Plannings. If your Scrum team feels safe, but the environment outside is hazardous to being vulnerable the problem extends into the larger organization. In short, it could be a larger, problem with culture. Feel your way through your relational network to find someone charged with the culture and consult with them on the problem. If you are not comfortable leading and have no access to someone who is, man I feel you. You are in a tough spot for sure.

Something I’ve heard is that it should be sufficient for people to show up as “professionals.” There no real need for all this touchy feely stuff, they say. These same people would also tout the virtue of innovation, failing fast, and learning from mistakes. Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation. If you are an organization that thrives on innovation, you had better learn to get beyond the manufactured facade of professionalism and dig deeper….into the touchy feely stuff.

For a Scrum team to do the right thing and tackle the hard problems, they have an irreducible need to be vulnerable before they do so.

The Scrum guide says:

Successful use of Scrum depends on people becoming more proficient in living these five values.

I would wager that the vast majority of people who start a Scrum team are wanting and expecting success from them. That success WILL NOT COME unless there is a healthy cultivation of vulnerability within and outside the team.

What does vulnerability look like for you?


Jason is a developer, Scrum Master, writer, teacher, coach, husband, father, and community leader out of Tulsa Oklahoma. He's been delivering software since 2007 and absolutely loves the values and principles of agility especially as given form by the Scrum framework.