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Agile at the Speed of Trust – An Overview

Reading: Agile at the Speed of Trust – An Overview

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.


Next Agile at the Speed of Trust - Self Trust

Comments (6)

  1. Stanimir

    Hi Mike,

    Now that you raise the point about trust and organizational change… Hm, it is probably the single most critical feature of the change agents that leads to a lasting adoption of a new idea or behavior.

    When of lean and agile development were introduced in our company, we invested a lot from our trust vaults. The first months were full of thunders, to say the least. Fortunately, now we focus on making permanent the new behaviors.

    Speaking of which, I also like your idea that Agile and Trust are Behaviors. This is something to be reminded, as there are many people who believe that they can run a transformation project, declare being agile, and then continue with old working habits.

    Sadly, these old habits die hard. Quite often they start kicking again. Now that I think about the last several months of my experience, provided that the trust still exists, these old habits can be overcome with a little effort. Thus reducing the cost and increasing the speed.

    I have not read the book yet, but thanks to your comment will definitely do so.

    All the best,

    • Mike Cottmeyer

      Thanks for your comment… remember, this was Peter’s post ;-) Don’t want any undue credit!


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