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Agile at the Speed of Trust – Relationship Trust

Reading: Agile at the Speed of Trust – Relationship Trust

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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