Why Trust Is Important To An Agile Team

In my opinion, the two most important criteria that you need for Agile to succeed are good communication and trust; both work in tandem with one another. I’m going to concentrate on one of these for now – trust – as we look at why it’s so important, what the consequences are without it and what you can do, no matter what your role in the team, to improve it.

Imagine this scenario…

Your company has signed up to an Agile way of working which should mean that change is welcome, yet when the customer requests a change in requirements or asks for something to be altered, they are met with a stony silence.

It’s all too easy to say you’re going to sign up to a flexible Agile way of working but if the two sides don’t trust one another, defences are going to be raised and animosity will be the word of the day.

It might be that your IT or technical team believes the requested changes have been made because of business inefficiency or as a result of someone’s flawed version of a requirement; if that’s true, they’re not going to be happy that they have to redo certain work and potentially discard others.

Likewise, if the business doesn’t trust the estimates given by the development team, they’re going to push back and cause further friction by putting the team under unnecessary pressure.

Neither side is going to be happy. What started out as an affirming principle — ‘Responding to change over following a plan’ (the Agile Manifesto) – becomes a grudge or a roadblock.

This is one simple scenario that highlights very effectively what can happen when trust is missing.

Now imagine the same scenario again but assume that both sides trust the other — suddenly, the problems disappear. That’s because Agile tells us that most issues can be overcome by trust.

The technical team need to trust each other, the leader needs to trust the team – and/ or trust the process – and the company as a whole needs to trust that the best work is being done. Likewise, if you’ve outsourced work, or someone has outsourced work to you or your company, both sides need to be confident that the relationship will work.

If trust is missing, relationships will be strained and work will be inferior.

Signs That You’re Lacking in Trust

If you or someone else within the business says some or all of these things, you can rest assured that there are unidentified trust issues going on:

They say: ‘I trust you but…’

‘…I just want to check…’

‘… I need to get this information…’

‘… in my experience…’

‘…can I just verify…’

‘… as part of my job…’

How to Encourage Trust

Open and honest communication is by far the best way to engender trust; face-to-face communication in particular is the ideal method of ensuring both parties can learn about and respect one another.  As someone no doubt very perceptive once said, trust is established between individuals rather than between organisations.

Ideally people will work in the same location for at least at the beginning of any project and after that, effective methods of communication – video, tools, other communication links — should be established.

Agile cannot work without effective communication and the benefit of getting the right tools to ensure this cannot be underestimated. Yes, it takes time and effort to begin with but it will pay for itself in future productivity.

You as a member of an Agile team can also help to boost trust by following these six simple rules:

  1. Open; honest and transparent communication helps people to trust you, confident that you are not doing things behind their back.
  2. Meet expectations. Keep your promises and commitments.
  3. Be competent. Use your skills effectively and if you don’t know something, seek help from those who do. People are more likely to trust someone who isn’t afraid to ask for help than someone who pretends to know it all but then makes mistakes.
  4. Always act with integrity so people know you can be trusted.
  5. If you’re in a position to, always ensure contracts between two parties are beneficial to both; if either side is dissatisfied, this kills trust.
  6. If you’re a leader, think ‘trust the team’. If you think the team has underestimated their work or velocity, for instance, resist the urge to question them about it. You could be wrong but even if you’re not, they may voluntarily add in further work to make up the shortfall later. If you think there are genuine issues, raise them with examples in the Sprint Retrospective and then allow the team to identify the best ways to tackle it themselves.

Now that is a sign of trust.

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