If you talk about Scrum, Kanban or the Agile way of working, you’re talking about customers, products and teams. In this blog I want to share my views on the role of teams in Agile organizations and why it is important to create trust within those teams. You might find this information useful for your next retro, team off-site or teambuilding.
Teams deliver value
When I talk with team members, managers or Agile coaches at the organizations I am fortunate to work with, “the team” is often one of the core topics that comes up. For me this makes sense because the team is the key component to deliver client value. What I find is that some teams do a better job at creating and delivering value than others, even within the same organization or department. Of course, there is a wide range of influences on these performances such as skill difference, having better tools for the job or shifting market demand, just to name a few. If you want to boost your team results, it really helps to start looking into the foundation of all (Agile) teams: Trust.
Let’s visit the Agile values, to understand they are connected with trust.
Trust as the foundation of Agile teams
Both the Agile Manifesto (1) and the Scrum Guide (2) hold values that are related to the interaction between team members.
Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools (1)
When the values of commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect are embodied and lived by the Scrum Team, the Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation come to life and build trust for everyone. (2)
These core Agile values are clearly stated and give direction to teams and organizations. For any of these values to flourish, there has to be a shared foundation. Trusting each other is that foundation.
In many places, such as here, here (both Dutch) and here the importance of trust within Agile is explained. Bottomline: there is only a team if there is trust (free to P. Lencioni, 5), so it’s worth building it if you want to improve!
Trust is like gravity
Ok, but what is trust? Trust is an abstract concept. Trust is like gravity: you need other objects to observe it. And where you have an apple and the earth to ‘see’ gravity, you would need two people to ‘see’ trust.
This means that trust takes place between individuals. It consists out of two parts: giving trust and deserving trust. The giving of trust is done from person A to person B. If B rewards this by being reliable or shows he/she deserves that trust, that’s when you can say that there is trust.
If you understand the core of trust you can think about ways to improve it. To explain the core components I created figure 1, which is based on the 3 P’s of Trust as described in book The Trusted Advisor (3).
Figure 1: 3P’s of Trust
Three P’s at the core
The 3 P’s stand for Personal, Paradoxical and Positively correlated to Risk.
As mentioned earlier trust happens between people, so the first P stands for Personal. When you take another look at the first value of the Agile Manifesto, you can see how this is connected to the value of trust. If you want to work together on building trust, it can be interesting to investigate how interactions are taking place (face-2-face, written, verbal) and could be improved.
“Well, I do not know, let’s find out”
The second P stands for Paradoxical, also explained as contradictory. Many of us expect that by acting as if you know something, you are building more trustworthiness. But the opposite is true: if you dare to admit that you do not know something, you build trust. A great example is found within Spotify. In order to find out what to do next, Product Owners frequently ask the teams: “What could we do to improve X?” A welcome response is: “Well, I do not know, so let’s find out” (4). As a result of this, they cultivate trust and thus a safe environment to investigate what does or does not work for the customers or the team. Admitting that you do not know something asks for Openness and Courage, two of the core Scrum values.
… the more risk you take, the more trust you give.
The third P is well connected to those values. It stands for ‘Positively correlated with Risk‘. This means that in order for trust to exist, people have to take a risk. And the more risk you are willing to take, the more trust you give.
To discuss this topic with teams, I often use this metaphor. Imagine you are part of a team of rock climbers. Together you are facing a mountain and you’ll have to help each other out to reach the top. The one climbing to the top must be confident that his partner will secure the rope from below, so he won’t fall down if he slips. If he does not trust his partner, the top will stay out of their reach.
For the one securing the rope there is a different dilemma. He must trust that the climber will be able to help him upwards later on, once he has reached the top. Taking the risk of believing that his partner will help, is what makes him hold on to the rope and secure him for a safe climb.
This shows that you have to make use of each other’s’ strengths and dare to rely on your partner for reaching the top together.
Inspiration to share
Reminding the combination of these 3P’s helps me understand trust better. I use it to facilitate sessions with teams, either with high or low trust levels. Perhaps you can use the 3P’s to talk with your team to investigate how trust has been built up amongst them. Tip: use music and perhaps a personal story for setting the right stage to initiate open and safe discussions with the team.
If you want share thoughts about this, please contact me. Maybe there’s something I can help you with, so please don’t hold back. I guess the worst thing that could happen is that I would have to say “I’m sorry, but I do not know about this”. But then we can probably find it out together, right?
2: Scrum guide
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