Agile & Restorative Justice

by | Jun 30, 2016 | 0 comments

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I’m a big fan of saying good things about the people you work with. For starters, there’s not enough love in the world as it is, but more than that, I’ve found compliments to be hugely valuable in promoting collaboration, learning and self-improvement within agile teams.

So when I came across this image with text online, I found it hugely interesting and inspiring.

tribe gathers round and says good things

It reads:

In this African tribe, when someone does something wrong, they take the person to the center of the village where the tribe surrounds him and for two days say all the good things he has done. The tribe believes each person is good, but sometimes people make mistakes, which are really a cry for help. They unite to reconnect him with his good nature.”

Now of course, there are a few alarm bells in this. Why are all good things recounted online supposed to come from African tribes or other non-western cultures? There’s a bit of a sense of the ‘noble savage’ here, which is not a territory we should be looking to move into. Why is the photo actually taken from an image of Ghanaian men playing football?

Sadly the story isn’t actually true. However, it’s a great way of raising the prospect of an associated idea that is true, that of restorative justice. In restorative justice, when someone does something wrong, rather than punishing them, a person who does something wrong and the people who suffered from that wrong meet up, discuss what happened and collaboratively agree ways to repair the harm that has been done.

It’s an approach that doesn’t sit well with people used to deterrence and punishment as a means of making people ‘do the right thing’, but it’s an approach that actually works really well.

We often talk in agile of the team working together collaboratively to inspect and adapt the process and ways of working over time in the light of experience, but if you think about it, that’s actually quite a broad statement for a wide range of different possible activities. Sometimes nothing has been done wrong, and it’s just about optimising things to make them even better. At other times though, people do do the wrong thing, for all manner of different reasons, with all manner of different impacts on others.

I wonder how many teams at times like those take a blame free, collaborative, caring and restorative justice approach towards the wrong and the wrong-doer, and how many unthinkingly fall back on punitive, divisive and even retributional approaches to dealing with the wrong?

I’d love to hear your experiences of this. Leave a comment below, or email me at

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About The Author

Gez Smith is an agile communications coach, trainer, author and speaker, and is also the author of ‘Agile Marketing: The Incomplete Guide’.