Agile at the Speed of Trust – Organizational Trust

Last Updated on Tuesday, 4 December 2012 11:04 Written by Peter Callies Tuesday, 4 December 2012 11:04

This post is part of a series focusing on the synergies between Agile and trust.  The book The Speed of Trust forms the definition of trust and the framework for this series.  The Speed of Trust uses a definition of “organization” that is relative to the reader.  If the reader is part of a team, that could be the organization.  If the reader is in charge of a department, that could be the organization.  If the reader is the president or CEO of a company, the entire company could be the organization.

We often talk about needing to focus on three primary areas when adopting Agile: people, processes, and organizational structure.  Organizational structure is the grouping of people and relationships between those groups.  The approach to this is critical because it provides the environment for shared accountability and alignment.  However, establishing the environment clearly isn’t enough.

The “third wave” of trust in The Speed of Trust is organizational trust.  This is the wave that deals with developing and maintaining trust with internal stakeholders of an organization to assure alignment.

As a way of communicating the importance of organizational trust, the book lists the following “taxes” that are paid in a low-trust organization and the “dividends” received in a high-trust organization.

Taxes Dividends
  • Redundancy
  • Bureaucracy
  • Politics
  • Disengagement
  • Turnover
  • Churn
  • Fraud
  •  Increased value
  • Accelerated growth
  • Enhanced innovation
  • Improved collaboration
  • Stronger partnering
  • Better execution
  • Heightened loyalty

Organizational trust builds on the 4 Cores and 13 Behaviors from The Speed of Trust, many of which are described in previous posts of this series.  As the book says, “[The cores and behaviors] are the keys to creating organizational alignment and trust. They empower you to…speak about trust in a way that promotes understanding, dialogue, and problem solving, and to behave in ways that build trust.”

The book asks the reader to question whether the organization’s behavior in relation to the four cores (integrity, intent, capabilities, and results) supports trust.  An Agile organization has a leg up in this area because agile principles and practices reinforce the cores.  Here are some examples.

  • Agile enables organizational integrity because it helps create a culture of making and meeting commitments.  In a Scrum environment, commitments are made and met with every sprint.
  • Agile validates organization intent via cross-functional teams and frequent check points that ensure that the output of the team is what the team intends and what the organization needs.
  • Additionally, it’s really hard to have a trust-destroying hidden agenda (nefarious intent) when results and plans are being inspected at frequent, regular intervals.
  • Agile reinforces the caring, empathetic aspects of intent by emphasizing a sustainable pace of work, helping individuals trust that the organization values them as people, not just as expendable resources.
  • One of the core tenants of Agile is continuous improvement.  By allowing teams time to focus on improving their capabilities (processes, tools, and skills) the organization builds trust.
  • Attention to organizational results is achieved by ensuring everyone is aligned with a shared vision.  Agile achieves this at a low level via cross-functional teams and frequent interaction between the business, often represented by someone playing the role of Product Owner, and the teams.  When Agile is scaled, this is achieved via cross-functional program and portfolio management.

The book then asks the reader to consider how the organization’s culture encourages the 13 individual trust behaviors.  A previous post talked about how Agile impacts these behaviors, but these behaviors can be put to interesting use in terms of a retrospective.  Try using the Satisfaction Histogram technique from Agile Retrospectives with some of the behaviors forming the evaluation criteria to determine where your organization stands and what you might want to focus on to improve trust within your organization.

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Agile at the Speed of Trust – Relationship Trust

Last Updated on Thursday, 2 August 2012 10:20 Written by Peter Callies Friday, 13 July 2012 06:51

Once Self Trust is established, the second wave of trust, Relationship Trust, can be tackled.  The Speed of Trust defines 13 behaviors as being critical to establishing trust in a relationship.  Although the book focuses on interpersonal trust, these behaviors also are critical for groups of people to establish trust within an organization.  Here are some of these behaviors that first made me aware of the strong link between trust and Agile.

Create Transparency

Every time I review the section named “Create Transparency” in The Speed of Trust, I’m reminded that transparency goes up and down.  Not only do teams need to be transparent with the work they’re doing, “product owners” (used generally, not in specific scrum terms) need to be transparent.  When a product owner is transparent about business challenges, risks, and opportunities with a team, the team becomes much more trusting in the product owner.  The team believes the product owner has considered many options and has reasons for the path chosen.  Additionally, it allows the team to understand the constraints the product owner is under.

Transparency is ” about being real and genuine and telling the truth in a way people can verify.”

The counterfeit is illusion: pretending, seeming rather than being, making things appear different than they really are.

Deliver Results

Mike recently gave a presentation that included a slide stating, “Introducing agile is never the point of introducing agile; better business outcomes are the point of introducing agile.”  This is one of those “well, duh” statements that is easy to overlook when we get too focused on the mechanics of agility, but delivering business results is what it’s all about.

Delivering results is the easiest way to build credibility.  In an Agile team setting, we break small batches of work up into small, meaningful, achievable pieces.  We define the success (i.e. results) for each piece up front in the form of acceptance criteria so everyone knows what result we’re trying to achieve.  Then, we operate in short iterations, rapidly delivering results that are confirmed by the product owner.  We build credibility and trust that allows us to accelerate our delivery of results.  It’s a wonderful cycle!

When we scale Agile, we do similar things.  We are constantly grooming our program or enterprise backlog, ensuring that we’re working on items that will deliver the most meaningful results for our company.

The counterfeit is delivering activities instead of results.  Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you’re delivering meaningful value.

Get Better

In Agile, we routinely inspect and adapt at levels ranging from pair programming to release retrospectives.  If we’re doing it right, we’re not only identifying things we can do differently, we’re actually implementing actions to effect change and improvement.  We have many feedback loops built into the way we work.

The Speed of Trust states, “When people see you as a learning, growing, renewing person — or your organization as a learning, growing, renewing organization — they develop confidence in your ability to succeed in a rapidly changing environment, enabling you to build high-trust relationships and move with incredible speed.”  One of the keys in that statement is people being able to see that you’re getting better.  It’s not enough to do it in a closed room.  It needs to be paired with “Create Transparency” to have maximum impact.

The book lists two counterfeits to Get Better:

  1. The person who is always learning, but never producing (i.e. the eternal student).
  2. Trying to force-fit everything into whatever you’re good at (i.e. thinking everything is a nail because you have a good hammer).

Confront Reality

In Agile software development, we focus on delivering working tested code in very short time frames.  We demonstrate that it is working and tested or we don’t call it done.  We continually confront the reality of code that isn’t working or isn’t meeting expectations.

If we’re doing proper retrospectives, we’re confronting the reality of how we work together most effectively.  We “share the bad news as well as the good, name the ‘elephant in the room’, address the ‘sacred cows’, and discuss the ‘undiscussables’.”

The Speed of Trust notes that confronting reality leads to open interaction and fast achievement.  Think about a project that has gotten off track.  Think about how often you’ve attended standing status meetings for that project where real issues are avoided and the project continues to founder.  There’s nothing fast about achieving meaningful results in that situation.

The counterfeit of confronting reality is “focusing on busywork while skirting the real issues.”

Practice Accountability

The book notes that it is equally important to hold yourself accountable and to hold others accountable.  If we define personal and group expectations, we need to live up to them.  When we don’t live up to them, we need to hold ourselves and our co-workers accountable.

In Scrum, we have an opportunity to do this by reviewing the results of every sprint.  If a story didn’t get done, it’s the team’s chance to say, “That story didn’t get done because we didn’t do this, that, or the other thing.”  It’s also a chance for an individual to stand forth and say, “I let the team down.  I committed to getting that done and I didn’t.”

In a daily standup, the opportunity exists for team members to hold each other accountable.  If a person said they were going to get something done during the last standup and it’s not done, other people on the team should “call the person out,” inquiring about why the thing isn’t done.  After all, the individual’s actions lead to the team’s success or failure.

Accountability is tough!  It goes against many of the examples we see in society today.  Most people look for excuses and scapegoats.  As the book says, most people play the victim, blaming the outcome of their actions (or inaction) on anything or anyone but themselves.

It takes courage to be transparently accountable and it takes fortitude to hold others accountable.

Keep Commitments

To keep commitments, you first need to make commitments.  Say what you’re going to do and then do it.  If you’re using Scrum, you do this every sprint.  In a scaled agile environment, you might do this every release.

The Speed of Trust cites two studies, one showing “keeping promises” as the number one behavior in creating an ethical culture, the other showing “not doing what they say” as the number one trust breaker.  Clearly, keeping commitments is critical to trust.

The counterfeit of keeping commitments is making commitments or promises that are so vague that you can’t be pinned down.

Extend Trust

Extend Trust is the capstone of all the other behaviors.  There are a couple of powerful sentences in The Speed of Trust that really represent Agile’s principles of giving people what they need to be successful and allowing them to self-organize (within reason, which is a much different topic that I am trying to cover here):

  • “Extend Trust is based on the principles of empowerment, reciprocity, and a fundamental belief that most people are capable of being trusted, want to be trusted, and will run with trust when it is extended to them.”
  • “When [trust is extended], people don’t need to be managed or supervised; they manage themselves.”

This somewhat lengthy post just touches the tip of the iceberg.  As I was writing the post, I realized I could have written an individual post on each one of these behaviors, not to mention the six other behaviors I didn’t touch on.  If the synergy between Agile and any of these behaviors resonated with you, I really encourage you to read the book.

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Agile at the Speed of Trust – Self Trust

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 April 2012 02:13 Written by Peter Callies Tuesday, 17 April 2012 06:00

The first post in this series provided an overview of the synergy between The Speed of Trust and Agile.  This post focuses on the first wave of trust, Self Trust.

Agile relies on cross-functional teams of individuals.  These individuals bring a set of personalities and skills to a team.  In great teams, these individuals have credibility.  That is, they contribute character and competence that helps make the team more than the sum of its parts.

The Speed of Trust describes “four cores” of credibility, two dealing with character and two dealing with competence:

  • Integrity
  • Intent
  • Capabilities
  • Results


Congruence, humility, and courage are three qualities of integrity mentioned in the book, but one passage on humility really struck me:

A humble person is more concerned about what is right than about being right, about acting on good ideas than having the ideas, about embracing new truth than defending outdated position, about building the team than exalting self, about recognizing contribution than being recognized for making it.

-Covey, Stephen M.R.; Merrill, Rebecca R. (2006-10-17). The SPEED of Trust (p. 64). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Humility is all about the success of the team over success as an individual, knowing that by lifting others up instead of climbing over them, is the right thing to do.  There’s also a hint of servant leadership in there.


Transparency is one of the most appealing aspects of Agile when it is done well.  With everything visible, there is no question about the intent of those involved. However, if someone comes to an Agile team with a nefarious motive, agenda, or behavior, that person and the team pay a huge tax on the speed at which they can deliver value.  In an Agile environment, you can’t fake it and you get punished when you try to.


The Speed of Trust uses the acronym TASKS to discuss capabilities.  Talents, Skills, and Knowledge are expected members of this list — they’re needed no matter what approach you’re using.  Attitudes and Style are the elements that grab me when I think about Agile.  My attitude — genuinely excited to be at work with my team and sincerely interested in continuous personal and team improvement — make a significant difference in speed of value delivery.

A variety of styles are valuable in Agile.  Personally, I have struggled to deal effectively with people who approach challenges differently than I do, but as I mature (i.e. get older), I am getting better at realizing that there is more than “my way”.  As long as people have integrity and proper intent, I try really hard to consider that their style could lead to a desirable result.


And finally, results matter.  Well, duh, but the book makes a point that demonstrates the mutually-reinforcing nature of Agile and trust.  It is critically important to focus not only on what is achieved, but also on how it is achieved.  Agile emphasizes accountability for results, but it also focuses on sustainability, repeatability — predictability!

“…suppose you hit the numbers, but you do it by creating a team spirit of abundance and collaboration. You help team members work together so that everyone succeeds, no one reaches burnout, and the credit is freely shared. What’s going to be their attitude the next time the challenge comes up? What if you can get the same great results—only this time, it’s going to be 30 percent faster and easier?”

Covey, Stephen M.R.; Merrill, Rebecca R. (2006-10-17). The SPEED of Trust (p. 114). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

In an end-of-chapter section on how to improve your results, the book encourages focusing on results, not the activities needed to achieve the results.  Agile does this via user stories or features defined in business terms by the customer or product owner instead of a task breakdown and by working in small batches that deliver results in a short timeframe.  These activities build the customer’s trust in the team who then gives more work to the team, reinforcing the team’s trust that the customer is paying attention to the results and the direction.  It’s a mutually reinforcing system that leads to performance that is greater than the sum of the parts.

If you’re going to be an excellent teammate on a team, you’ve got to trust yourself.  You’ve got to know that you’re credible.  You’ve got to walk your talk.  You’ve got to know you’re doing things for the right reason.  You’ve got to bring relevant capabilities.  You’ve got to deliver.

It ain’t easy!

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Agile at the Speed of Trust – An Overview

Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 March 2012 01:33 Written by Peter Callies Tuesday, 13 March 2012 05:00

Guest Post from Peter Callies:  As LeadingAgile grows, you are going to start seeing more posts from people other than me.  One of these days we’ll get Dennis to do a post… probably Rick as well.  One of the things I’ve considered for a few months is the idea of having one or two of my clients do a post.  Peter is super smart and really gets this stuff and we’ve become friends over the year I’ve worked with his company.  

This is the first in a series Peter plans to do on trust… specifically around Stephen M. R. Covey’s book ‘The Speed of Trust’.  I’m a huge fan of both Stephen Covey and his son Stephen M. R. Covey.  What could be a better way to kick things off, and introduce Peter Callies, than to go deep into one of my favorite authors while exploring a topic critically important to people and companies everywhere.  

In early 2011, a company made a major investment in Agile.  An intentional decision was made from the executive level down to the grassroots that an Agile approach would be used to develop products.  An investment in training, months of coaching, and lots of hard work led to measurable results.

At about the same time, the company recognized that it had an issue with trust within the company.  Instead of burying their heads in the sand, hoping the issue would resolve itself like I’ve seen done other places, the leadership team confronted it head on.  The company brought in training and coaching help from CoveyLink, formally reflected on trust behaviors at regular intervals, conducted “360″ assessments — even made trust part of their performance management processes.

Those two decisions and the actions undertaken to become agile and to build trust have had a profound impact on the company’s culture and ability to build products.  Because Agile and trust are behaviors, not destinations, the company continues to work at them and is continuously conscious of them.

I believe that Agile and trust are mutually reinforcing.  In this post, I’ll provide an overview of The Speed of Trust and how it relates to Agile.  In the future, I’ll delve into specifics.

In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey puts forth an argument that “trust is not some soft, illusive quality that you either have or you don’t; rather, trust is a pragmatic, tangible, actionable asset that you can create[i]”.  While many, including me until recently, think of trust as a squishy, nebulous concept that is difficult to measure, Covey looks at it a measurable formula where trust impacts speed and cost.  When trust goes down, speed goes down and cost goes up.  When trust goes up, speed goes up and cost goes down.

↑Trust = ↑Speed ↓Cost

↓Trust = ↓Speed ↑Cost

Covey goes on to describe trust taxes and trust dividends.  These are the sometimes hidden variables that quantifiably increase or decrease trust in measurable ways.  As an example, he puts a twist on the traditional business results formula that says results (R) equal strategy (S) multiplied by execution (E).  He says (where T is trust):

(S x E)T = R

In this case, high trust (i.e. trust above 1.0) can be an enhancer of strategy and execution or low trust (i.e. trust below 1.0) can be a deterrent no matter how good the strategy and execution are.

The Speed of Trust uses a model based on waves of trust.


Covey, Stephen M.R.; Merrill, Rebecca R. (2006-10-17). The SPEED of Trust (p. 33). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.


The outer waves evolve from the inner waves – it’s difficult to successfully start with organizational trust without relationship trust and it’s difficult to build relationship trust if you don’t trust have self trust.

Self trust relates to our own credibility.  The book focuses on four cores of credibility: integrity, intent, capabilities, and results.  This is the foundation of being able to effectively contribute to an Agile team.

Relationship trust is based on behaviors, demonstrating to others that you are capable of trust.  You need to walk the talk for others to trust you.  Many of these behaviors really resonate with me when I’m thinking about Agile and trust together.

Organizational trust deals with aligning an organization’s structures and systems to decrease trust taxes and increase trust dividends.  This is where leaders can impact the ability of Agile to impact product development from top to bottom.

Market trust reflects an organization’s reputation and trust level of external stakeholders.  If you’re defining “organization” as a company, this wave of trust could get into high-order Agile adoption.  However, looking at “organization” on a smaller scale (e.g. Product Development) with external stakeholders that are internal to the company (e.g. Marketing, Operations, or Account Management) might make market trust easier to grasp.

Societal trust is pretty self-descriptive.  It deals with contributing to the community at large. As with market trust, this wave can be applied with different definitions of “society”.  Society may truly be the city, country, or the world you live in.  It could also be the company you work in.  Or maybe it’s a loosely knit group with a common interest like the Agile community.

Although the relationship between Agile and trust has been percolating in my mind for months, this is the first time I’ll be writing about it.  I’m looking forward to the process of developing my thoughts and getting your feedback.


[i] Covey, Stephen M.R.; Merrill, Rebecca R. (2006-10-17). The SPEED of Trust (p. 2). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

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