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Agile at the Speed of Trust – Organizational Trust

Reading: Agile at the Speed of Trust – Organizational Trust

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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Comments (2)

  1. Dave Tauzell

    This leads me to believe that the boundaries between Agile and non-Agile groups are where the most Trust issues are likely to occur.

  2. Scrum coach

    Once Self Trust is established, the second wave of trust, Relationship Trust, can be tackled.


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