I’ve been mentoring a group of young Scrum Masters for the last seven months, and recently one of them asked me a question:
How do I foster trust within my team?
Immediately, two thoughts came to mind:
- They’ve been listening. Affecting change isn’t about process, mechanics, or imposition. It’s about people. It’s about helping others, and I couldn’t be prouder that this question came to mind.
- It’s a freakin’ tough question to answer. My response was far more philosophical than practical. In the moment, no simple, straight forward answers came to mind so I’ve been chewing on it since.
But why? Whether family, friends, or colleagues, we’re surrounded by people most times of the day, and our relationships with others are built on a foundation of trust. For example, we trust that the car next to us driving at highway speeds will stay in its own lane. When a friend offers to drive us to the airport, we trust s/he will show on time so we catch our flight. After all these years, we should have a handle on this trust thing, right?
I wish that were so.
As this group of Scrum Masters and I talked through how to foster trust, we began peeling back layers. What does it mean to trust? Is it that when we confide in someone, we trust they’ll not share the information with others? Is trust a simply a shorthand for believing others will meet their deadlines? What’s the relationship between communication and trust? And what’s the opposite of trust?
How and why do we develop trustful relationships with some while keeping others at arm’s length? Finally, what’s the Scrum Master’s responsibilities when it comes to fostering trust? At first blush, trust is this, courtesy of Jeff Weiner:
However, that’s just the start. In my experience, trust comes in several shades:
- As a proxy for confidence. For example, do we consistently meet the commitments we make? And if something makes us revise these commitments, do we let others know as soon as possible? Or do we instead try to obfuscate our new reality? Why?
- As a proxy for confidentiality. We spend nearly as much time with colleagues as we do family. As such, it’s only natural we discover some of our best friends at the office. I’m sure we all have colleagues we vent to, confide in, and brag to.
Building trustworthy relationships is precursor to success.
- As a proxy for honesty. One of the principles of Modern Agile is “make safety a prerequisite.” Teams that lack it will fail, and the Modern Agile team did an outstanding job offering practical advice in this cheat sheet.
- As a proxy for silent knowledge. My wife and I have been married five years, and I’ve learned her looks. (Some of them I prefer to others.) I know her strengths, she knows my weaknesses, and over time, we’ve learned when and where to rely on one another. The same applies to teams. Over time, the explicit becomes implicit. In some circumstances, words become unnecessary.
My advice today focuses on the honesty and confidentiality shades. Here’s several techniques I employ when working with teams in an effort to foster trust:
- Epitomize everything. Show the team how to respectfully disagree. Show them how to make commitments and how to communicate when a commitment is missed. Show them how to fail gracefully and how to give critical feedback. In short, set the example for how we’d like all team members to behave.
- Know our people. Like Henrik Kniberg taught me “people over everything.” Again, we spend a great deal of time surrounded by our colleagues so take the time to appreciate what motivates them. As a litmus test, I try to learn at least one personal fact about everyone I work with. If I can’t name a fact, I have work to do.
- Have no agenda. I remember a co-worker of mine that would only stop by my desk when he needed something. At no other time would I see him. Let that not be us. On occasion, stop by someone’s desk just to talk, assuming they’re not in the middle of something. Say hi. Ask how the weekend went. Again, have no agenda.
- No one likes a zealot. So don’t be one. If we feel ourselves about to say, “Scrum says…”. Stop. This does nothing to foster trust. Why? First, Scrum doesn’t say anything; people do. Second, we should remember that our focus is on helping others. After all:
We’re not the Scrum police.
- Embrace mistakes. They’re going to happen whether we like it or not. If something goes wrong or if someone rubs us the wrong way, don’t assume the worst. Enter all situations with a bias toward innocence. In fact, I recently ran across a site that explains an intriguing intersection between game theory, trust, and miscommunication. Check it out here. You’ll thank me later.
That’s all for today, and I hope this helps you and your team as you work to foster trust. Before I go though, one final thought. I asked at the start about the opposite of trust. My answer? Control is the opposite of trust. Try this. The next time we’re faced with a situation where we wish for a higher degree of control, step back for a moment and think. Why? Where? Have we lost faith in something or someone? Should we focus time and attention there instead of tightening the reins? That’s not to say unconditional trust and unfettered autonomy is wise. It’s not. For me, I guess it comes down to this:
I find that knowing what’s really happening is more important than trying to control people.Larry Page