Developing Trust

Agile Work is a set of methods that are useful in working effectively and delivering value to stakeholders. There are many good business reasons to use Agile Work. There is also a very important human reason to use this method: developing trust and the capacity for truthfulness.

Everyone has struggled at some time or another with being truthful. At work, this may happen out of fear or embarrassment; if I’ve done something wrong or made a mistake, I don’t want others to know about it. Many work environments push people to a CYA (Cover Your Ass) attitude.

Agile Work has a few practices that help move us away from this and towards greater visibility and truthfulness.

First, frequent delivery of value: this practice, using iterations with strict timeboxes allows us to make a commitment to get something done, and then do it, and then show everyone that we did it. Often this one thing alone is sufficient to start the process of removing distrust and replacing it with visibility and truthfulness.

Second, status meetings and retrospectives: these practices allow team members to regularly report on obstacles and things that need improvement. These obstacles and needs for improvement are often the things we hide out of fear or embarrassment. By using these practices on a regular basis, we become more and more comfortable with raising our concerns. As well, the fact that these practices are an explicit accepted part of the process helps to legitimize and provide a safe environment for people to raise obstacles and needs for improvement.

Third, powerful communication: by having the team use highly visible information radiators, and by having the team work together in an open team room, there is more physical visibility of what is happening. It is harder to hide the fact that I spend 5 hours a day surfing the net. It is harder to hide the fact that I spend 3 hours a day on the phone. It is harder to hide the fact that I come in late every single day. This can be uncomfortable for those who have something to hide! Powerful communication also includes working face-to-face jointly on many problems and their solutions. If you are insecure about your own skills or knowledge, this also can be challenging. Nevertheless, this practice also helps develop visibility, truthfulness and trust.

It is important for the team and management to realize that it does take time to develop trust. Depending on how many of these practices you use, and how sincerely you work on them, the development of trust may happen quickly or it may happen slowly. This has implications for deciding on trade-offs. If trust develops slowly, then it will take longer to get a team into the performing stage of its development and therefore it will take longer to get to a hyper-productive state. Just to be clear: for a business this means that value is delivered slower!

What other ways do agile methods help develop trust and the capacity for truthfulness?

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