Trust and Agile

I had the wonderful opportunity to have a panel discussion recently regarding Agile. In my warped world, there is no greater pleasure than getting grilled on how Agile can be implemented in the real world. As such conversations are wont to do, a consistent theme emerged. In this particular conversation it was all about Trust.

If someone asked me to pick one word that could be used to describe a low functional Agile team versus a high functioning team, there are two words that come to mind – Discipline and Trust. Of these trust is probably the most important in that it can be hard to acquire, difficult to keep and easy to lose. As a scrum master, my team has to trust that I have their best interests in mind at all times, that the metrics I compile will never be used to punish them. They need to trust each other to be able to commit to a body of work for any particular sprint, etc.

But trust is a squishy thing to identify and measure. How do I know my team trusts me and each other? How can I create an environment of trust? I believe that in my past I have been able to get a degree of trust with my team members (so I have my own opinions that I will express later), but I decided to do some digging. I found a good article on trust. In this article is a reference to a book called The Trusted Advisor which has a simple equation for trust:

T = (C+R+I) / S or Trust = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy) / Self-Orientation

I think that this, while maybe not 100% accurate, is at least something that can help us to understand and point in the right direction. I might sum it up differently:

You will get a high level of trust if you can talk the talk, walk the walk, connect with others on a human level but place the needs of someone else above your own.

These seem to me to self-evident, but I guess common sense is not always so common, so let me elaborate some.

If you are a scrum master for a team the first thing that you need to make sure you do is to truly understand Agile. I am not talking about the ceremonies of Agile. While you will have to know these things, what you really need to know is the thought behind the procedures. You have to know enough about Agile to be comfortable enough to sometimes say “I just don’t know.” You know what you know and are honest about what you don’t know. People respect that.

Next, when you say that you are going to do something do it. If you say that you stand for something be prepared to back it up with action. Be careful what you say. Promise little but always deliver on your promises.

Intimacy can’t be faked. If you are not a “people” person then being a scrum master might not be for you. I love my team members. They are my second family. In many cases (and I apologize if this borders on paternalism) but I think of my team much like my own children. There are some things that I have to gently but firmly put my foot down on. I need to make sure that I keep them from making the big mistakes, but sometimes I need to bite my tongue and let them make some little mistakes on their own. Want them to be successfully personally and professionally and tell them every day that you do. And by your actions every day prove this to be true.

As far as Self-Orientation, you need to always remember that as scrum master you were placed on this earth to serve your team. I have an incredible ego and my teams and I joke about it a lot, but they also know that I truly care for them and put their needs above my own by my words and actions.

I hope this will help you. Love your team. Build their trust. You will be amazed at what can be accomplished (and the increasing size of your holiday card list).

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