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Trustworthiness… Then Trust

Mike Cottmeyer Chief Executive Officer
Reading: Trustworthiness… Then Trust

Trust is an import part of what makes agile really work. It is so important, we are intentional about creating the opportunity for that trust to emerge within the team. We are intentional about creating a planning, delivery, and feedback cadence that helps trust form between the team and the business. Trust is a fundamental precondition to how we write requirements, how we estimate, and how we assess progress. Without trust, agile isn’t really very agile.

But what do you do if you are in an organization where trust is really low? What if you are working in an organization with a long history of distrust between the development team and the business… an organization where the business has unrealistic expectations and a perception that development never gets anything done. You might decide to adopt agile, but that history isn’t going to go away overnight. In this case, is it fair to ask the business to trust the team?

One of the biggest complaints I hear from new agile teams, is that the business does not trust them to deliver. They are convinced that all their problems would go away if the business would just trust them to do their jobs. These teams want the business to trust them first. The problem is that the business has no history of getting what they want. They have no history of software being delivered on time. They have no history of getting the quality they need to be successful with their customers.

If you were the business, would you trust you to deliver?

What teams don’t realize is that they aren’t safe to be trusted. The business is on the hook for delivering value to their customers. They are on the hook for revenue and market share. With no foundation of trust to build on, asking them to trust is like asking them to take their hands off the wheel of the car. They are responsible for getting from point A to point B and want some degree of assurance that they are going to get there. Trusting the team feels like an irresponsible loss of control.

If you are a team that wants to be trusted, I would suggest that you stop asking the business to trust you. When you frame the problem this way, it makes you powerless to do anything about it. Either the business changes or you can’t be successful… the problem is beyond your ability to influence. What you need to do is become trustworthy. Becoming trustworthy is something that you have power to do something about. If you are trustworthy long enough, you will earn the trust of the business and won’t have to ask for it.

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Comments (5)

  1. David Hawks

    I agree. It is up to the team to earn trust. At a previous company I inherited a team that had lost trust with the business. For our first project I had our team work very closely with key stakeholders from one of the most influential departments to define a new project. For the first project we began with 1 week Sprints so that we could quickly demonstrate progress as previous teams disappeared for months at a time. The interaction with the stakeholders quickly changed from reluctant contributors to highly engaged and excited. We eventually changed our pace back to 2 week Sprints, but this initial effort to gain trust and engagement was huge!

  2. Mike Cottmeyer

    Excellent comment David, thanks for sharing that story!

  3. Shailesh B Davara

    yes, I strongly believe that it is up to the team to prove their ability rather than bagging for trust.

    once you will show your power to do work, definitely next time, business will come up with new requirement and new responsibility …
    As always to get trust from anyone, first you need to be trust worthy. Nice post.

  4. Heinrich

    Thank you for an excellent post. Trust is essential but in the end it has to be earned.


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