Which came first, respect or the desired outcome?

(Originally posted on HappyMelly.com)

Recently I was in a car driving down the eastern coast of England with my Uncle David. It was a long ride through the winding country roads typical of Suffolk. We had a series of conversations about life, including his time as a touring trumpet player with various bands around Europe. His crowning achievement was twice playing in the Palladium in London — first in 2005 then again in 2013. By all accounts, David Brook made a name for himself as a quality European trumpet player, for which he has a lot of pride. 

The conversation shifted to my upcoming talk in London: ‘Agile transformations and the impact to organizational culture’. And we had a back and forth over what the content of my talk was — as a musician the concepts of lean and agile thinking are not in the front of his mind. I distilled my talk to him into the phrase: It is about respecting people and respecting teams. 

The topic of respect is when our two seemingly divergent worlds soon found shocking synergy.respect1

Respect, like many other team values, usually only gets noticed when it’s lacking. Unfortunately, too many creative workers have been in at least one environment where respect is regularly missing, and this makes me sad. I see software as a craft, and the people responsible for the delivery of software as artisans. Much like musicians, software developers spend countless hours/days/years learning and honing their craft. Even outside of the academic side of the training and learning, there are endless measures of time where they give away their skills on open source projects and “do me a favor” projects, donating all in the hopes of becoming a professional contributing to a product they believe in.


Yet, a culture was born in which respect for software delivery has eroded to a point that developers became seen as cogs in a machine. Code is code and when things are late, do not work or break, it’s the developers’ fault. And respect is gone.

I had seen this first hand, and nearly left the industry twice as a result. Luckily, I stumbled onto a book written by Ken Schwaber in the early 2000s that introduced me to agile thinking. That lead to me learning about lean development. 


Through the lean and agile journey, you develop a deep appreciation for the need to put respect back into the delivery process. This is the natural effect of respect prioritized within teams:

  • From respect comes safety.
  • From safety comes honesty.
  • From honesty comes conversations and innovation. 
  • Happy teams write better code. 

Recently, I heard Jurgen Appelo pose: 

“Is it that happy teams make successful products? Or do successful products make happy teams?”

When I first heard him say this, I thought it was a toss up, but now see the former as the sustainable engine of growth.



There is enough disrespect in the world today — you don’t have to look long or hard to see it in our information-inundated society. I believe respect-centric workplaces have a positive infectious result that crosses into our personal lives. And for that, we would all benefit.

As we drove into an old beach town, my Uncle David told me of the countless times after shows when agents approached him to play for next to nothing or nothing — and how disrespectful it is to artists. I tried to tell him that it’s the same in software and I work to change that daily. He looked at me and said “But no one in management thinks this way.” I looked him in the eye and said “Even if that were true, shouldn’t someone start?”

Uncle David and Ryan


I believe when respect is present, happy teams make better products. Not that better products make for respectful and happy teams.  Challenge this premise for yourself and your experience and in the next week contribute to this one question surveywith your thoughts. At the end of this week’sHappiness Challenge, we will share the findings at the end of this article.

But feel free to start the debate now in the comments below or, if you are a Happy Melly member, you can join us in the #respect dedicated Slack channel!

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