And just how powerful is this instruction:
“I trust you on this project to do the best you can, in the best way you can imagine”.
Imagine receiving that message to get a problem solved. How uplifting. How motivating. How thrilling!
Yet first let’s see what happens when we don’t trust one another.
Three Cases of Distrust
When I joined my last employer there was of course the usual negotiation on salary and because of the level of employment, my target bonus with the owner of the company. After closing the negotiations in what I thought was a win-win situation I worked hard, went the extra mile, for example learning the system in my own time, writing-up workshop notes for my colleagues in the management team at 2 o’clock in the morning, ready for the presentation that would take place at 9am and often worked extra hours to keep ahead. Yet when our bonus payment discussion came around he suddenly changed the benchmark for performance, to suit him. He simply changed the rules of the game.
Then a few years later the same owner set up a share scheme for the employees locking them into his company for 12 months. Indeed a very critical 12 month period. Yet once the 12 months were over he extended the agreement another six months thus avoiding payout and shares. Again suiting him.
It gets worse.
As you can imagine I quit this company. But just as I was about to leave there were changes in the management and the new CEO persuaded me to stay. The owner had agreed to give me a new interesting position. Yet just two weeks later I walked into the office to be confronted with a new face upon asking who it was I was informed that the owner had decided to give my job, my new job, to him.
Do you think this was an organisation full of trust? Do you think the people trusted each other?
Do you think that trust influenced the culture of the organisation?
Do you think people went the extra mile? No!
Do you think people wanted out? You bet!
And this is why trust is an extraordinarily powerful influence on culture not just within the organisation but also within the department and ultimately the team.
Do you Think you can you Trust your Team or Colleagues?
Patrick Lencioni in his Book: “The five dysfunctions of a team*” positions trust as the foundation of all teamwork.
His thinking goes like this: Without trust, it is impossible to debate ideas. No I correct that, it is possible to debate ideas but it will highly likely become personal. When trust is present, we can debate ideas – and this is when it gets key – we can have a safe conflict knowing that it will not get personal and when we have that we can commit. And when we commit we can hold each other accountable. And when we hold each other accountable for our actions we focus on results rather than protecting our own status and ego.
Where is the evidence of trust?
This is the golden question. What do we see? What do we hear? What do we feel when a team trusts one another?
In other-words, how do we know that trust exists?
Again Lencioni gives as a hint. We need to look at evidence of people asking for help or admitting mistakes. I recall working at a client, with one particular scrum team. The question I gave to the team was very simple. I simply asked them:
“When did you last make a mistake?”
Everybody sat there looking down at their shoes and I’m sure if they could they would’ve been looking for the worms underneath the building they were sat in.
And then suddenly one brave soul shouts out:
“I made a mistake! I brought down the TFS system!”
I could see the others thinking: “Wow he is admitting a mistake!”. He was certainly brave. But then I then pushed-back with…
“wasn’t that six weeks ago … Has nobody made a mistake since?”
New Zealand and Australia suddenly become visible as everyone intensified their stare downwards, except for our newly proud sole soul.
So what can we do to improve this?
When do we try to look for Evidence of Trust and how do we do it?
With Agile teams we are presented with wonderful opportunity of circumstance. It lies within the ceremonies. We simply have to ask for help during our stand-ups or admit our mistakes during retrospectives.
In fact, all the ceremonies from the humble stand-up, to planning, refinement, retrospective and the review are all filled with the opportunity to demonstrate trust.
But how do we accelerate trust even faster? Well, here we get into the debate of physical and electronic boards. Electronic boards are great for remote teams.
But they are absolutely not transparent. In fact they are hidden behind a username and password. And this is where the power of the physical board comes into play. It makes everything transparent. That in turn speeds up trust**.
No one can hide what they are doing.
Yet for this to work we need a certain degree of something else. Certainly maturity. I often talk about teams that hide behind JIRA or some other tool to “man-up” and mature and make their work transparent.
But that is only one step. We need something more powerful.
We need it at the personal level, before we can start to pro-actively build trust.
And that is humility.
Without humility we cannot start to admit our mistakes and we will always certainly be too proud to ask for help.
Yet when we do have humility we can not only start to show signs of trust, but we also become open to new technology, new people, new methods, new approaches and we stop hanging on to old ways of working.
Not convinced? What happens when we stay with the same technology or method or way-of-working? We slowly become worthless (unless you are a FORTRAN or Algol software developer, in which case NASA wants to talk to you***).
In other words, when we are humble, ie not arrogant, we are able to constantly learn and get better at what we are doing. We stay ahead and become masters.
Plus it is our basic human need to keep exploring and discovering and we can only do that if we are humble. And by being humble we can ask for help and admit mistakes which, guess what, only accelerates our learning even more.
And that is why when we are humble, we are able to convey trust onto others and that is why trust is the only legal performance enhancing drug known to man.
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Click Here
Pg 154, Stephen MR Covey, “The Speed of Trust” – Click Here
Voyager 1 & 2 Retiring Engineers – Click Here