Written by Jennifer Romero-Greene
on June 14, 2022

The Agile Transformation is upon us, as is the Digital Transformation, the Cloud Transformation and the Workforce Transformation. Does anyone else feel like they are living in Transformers movie? Cars becoming fighting robots to fend off an alien invasion might be far-fetched, but there is no doubt companies are feeling the growing pains of transformation. In the face of all this transformation, business leaders are asking; how do we retain our personnel and provide them the upskilling they need while keeping our business running efficiently?

Two components of Agile Practices can help. First is Scrum’s Three Pillars of Empiricism - Transparency, Inspection, and Adaption (TIA). Second is Psychological Safety derived from the Agile Manifesto’s first core value: individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

Three Pillars of Empiricism

Employing the TIA from the Three Pillars of Empiricism, first you need to inspect your teams’ capabilities and identify any gaps in critical skills needed. Adaptation is implementing ways to address the gaps identified, including upskilling your existing teams to meet the critical needs of your organization.

To do this successfully requires transparency. defines transparency as:

...presenting the facts as is. All people involved—the customer, the CEO, individual contributors—are transparent in their day-to-day dealings with others. They all trust each other, and they have the courage to keep each other abreast of good news as well as bad news. Everyone strives and collectively collaborates for the common organizational objective, and no one has any hidden agenda.

Transparency is key to teams inspecting their capabilities and identifying gaps without fear of threatening their positions or coming across negatively as “less than they should be.” They need to inspect and present the facts “as is” with trust that there are no hidden agendas and everyone is pulling together in one direction.

Psychological Safety

The Agile Manifesto’s first core value is individuals and interactions over processes and tools, meaning people (or teams) are valued higher than processes or tools. In Agile, people are organized in self-managed work teams that are crucial to success. For teams to be highly efficient, they need to have the psychological safety to speak up without risk of negative consequences or embarrassment. The psychological safety to speak freely and present the facts, whether they are good or bad, is derived from valuing people over processes and tools and the transparency from the Three Pillars of Empiricism.

We can best retain and upskill personnel while running our businesses efficiently through transparency and psychological safety. In my experience, the key to successful Agile Transformation is cooperation between executives, middle management and individual teams.

One of the beauties of self-managed teams is that skills take precedence over defined roles. Teamwork in an Agile context means everyone working together as equals with no regard to seniority, background or education level. Getting the job done is the priority. Psychological safety allows team members to freely suggest ideas and identify what skills are lacking without fear of being replaced.

Upskilling Your Teams

How to identify and accomplish the required upskilling should be unique to each context. I strongly believe in the value of highly functioning, autonomous work teams. Present teams with the challenges of identifying the capability gaps and supplying solutions. There needs to be a brainstorming session where potential solutions are put on the table. Options can include Lunch and Learns, LinkedIn or Udemy learning courses, digital certificates or membership in relevant affiliations. There are many upskilling options available and all should be explored. There should be some sort of reward or celebration structure put in place to recognize and encourage team members’ upskilling accomplishments.

Transparency and psychological safety give teams the freedom and trust to identify capability gaps and the best ways to close them, often by upskilling the people on hand. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the average cost to hire for an open position is $4,129 and that doesn’t include on-boarding, new-hire training or the hidden opportunity cost of the learning curve. Challenging teams to evaluate the existing skills base, identify the best options for upskilling and help create rewards, incentives and recognition for those who successfully gain new skills can increase morale and employee retention. It’s a win-win for organizations and their employees built on the foundations of transparency and psychological safety.