5 trust-building tips for Agile teams (audio enabled)

Agile can be a great way to promote innovation and address unpredictability in development and design. Sometimes though, you hear stories of things going sideways. Here’s one such story:  Imagine a software project started with much fanfare and best intentions; a dev team and a design agency that were all set for a powerful, self-organized, collaborative experience; a seasoned Scrum Master who would be the ideal efficiency shepherd. They were an enthusiastic team, poised for success, but a couple of weeks into their first sprint, tensions started soaring and the team quickly felt itself drifting into the redzone of sabotage and self-destruction.


Scrum Sabotage

What went wrong? The team had almost complete buy-in. There was one team member, a pretty senior one we’ll call Aaron, who had not worked in Agile before and unfortunately, telegraphed his reticence significantly in meetings. During sprint planning, each time a developer weighed in on the workload of a particular story, Aaron would interject that he was sure he’d seen developers do a similar task in way less time, so why did they think it would take them so long, etc. The net result was predictably disastrous for the team. Fearing that speaking honestly in front of Aaron would get them into trouble, potentially even get them fired, the group sunk into the quicksand of second-guessing or eventually, paralysis when it came time to estimating workload on tasks. Even the Scrum Master, whose job it was to field these types of issues was worried and too overwhelmed to speak out. The team had been undermined. The problem was simple enough to diagnose- although the agile method of development was well-suited to this project (the final requirements for the product were largely unknown and the effort required to make the product was hard to predict), this particular group lacked one of the chief attributes of successful agile teams: Trust.


The Agile Road

Working in Agile removes much of the traditional hierarchical structure of management, and replaces it with transparent collaboration between empowered team members. This approach encourages everyone to feel a real sense of ownership over their work. Agile empowers teams to voice their opinions and makes them responsible for key decisions around workload and timelines. The heightened transparency means every single member of the team needs to feel comfortable speaking honestly about the development process. Let’s take a quick look at the Agile Manifesto:


“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”


You don’t need a degree in psychology to realize that none of those highly valued tenets are going to be achievable without trust. According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, trust is the “foundational element of high-performing organizations.” According to Stephen Covey, in his books The Speed of Trust and Smart Trust, a lack of trust can be metric well by two simple metrics, cost and speed. When trust goes down, speed goes down and cost goes up. He refers to this phenomenon as the “low-trust tax.” The opposite paradigm is also true - when trust goes up, speed goes up and cost goes down, creating the “high-trust dividend.”

According to a recent study by Interaction Associates, building trust in the workplace is not only imperative, it’s also entirely achievable.


Trust Building Advice

Here are five strategies you can use to build trust:


1. State your Intentions

In Speed of Trust, Covey found that when you state your intentions sincerely, you strengthen commitment and facilitate buy-in. A team that takes the time to share goals, beliefs and expectations sets the stage for accountability, confidence and trust.

2. Be Transparent 

Be honest with the team and ask for their input. Encourage understanding by sharing the reasoning behind your decisions. Avoid being a hypocrite. Admit your mistakes, hold yourself accountable and offer support (more than judgement) when others falter, especially if they volunteer that there are issues that need to be addressed.

3. Be a Servant to Positive Outcomes

Be supportive to your team and demonstrate good will. Showing that you are committed to your own improvement is a great way to inspire that in your team. Set your fellow team members up for success by being accommodating and mindful of opportunities you have to raise morale and productivity by teaching, listening and being receptive to new ideas.

4. Share of Yourself
Build trust by sharing a bit of yourself with the team. You don’t have to tell your life story or divulge intimate secrets, but showing the team who you are on a personal level engenders trust. Maybe you love cats. Maybe your brother is a pro surfer. Maybe you’re nervous because this is your first time doing this type of work. A few personal stories shared amongst the team will go a long way to help everyone relate better.

5. Promote a Self-Organizing Team
The best way to create a team that self-organizes is to encourage everyone to give their input when decisions are made that will affect them. If team members feel their insights are valued, they are more likely to take their own actions seriously.

Building trust is an essential part of working successfully in Agile development and design. Take the time to nurture trust. Your teams and clients will thank you. We’d love to chat more with you about creating trust and confidence and the benefits of the Agile methodology. Feel free to contact us.