Trust goes all the way

Published for me by SogetiLabs on June 26th, 2015:

The effect of trust on Scrum teams

Trust is something that any work situation demands. However, it’s hard to find trust nowadays, as it has been replaced by ‘control’ in traditional work environments. Our business models, leadership principles and relationships at workplaces, usually, do not accommodate trust.

I’ll give you an example from my youth. As a young student, I got an evening job in a supermarket. I helped replenish the store’s in-shop inventory. One night, my supervisor accused me of stealing. He claimed to have seen me putting something into my pocket (later, it turned out to be my own watch that had slipped off my wrist while doing my job). This incident questioned my integrity in a big way. I felt scared of losing the job and my reputation; and my expectation of justice suffered a severe blow. Although, I was cleared by HQ later, the relationship with my supervisor was never the same. He never trusted me after that and I must admit, I could never trust his judgment either.

Now, when I train people on Scrum, I hear about different work situations where ‘the level of trust my supervisor showed in me’ is quite common. When I say that a team should be self organized, they (management) object that people will slack off. I have never seen a team slack off in a Scrum environment; in fact, they thrive, improve, and have more pride than a lot of other teams. Scrum teams put more effort to deliver quality work and demonstrate technical excellence, exhibiting great performance overall. Often, I’m asked to validate it by providing relevant statistics, metrics, etc.

But trust comes from within. If you don’t give trust, you will not get it. Once a team is controlled, they may/will start to meet the numbers by using various devious means. For instance, they can double the team velocity without doing anything more, they can lie about the time spent or they can increase estimations to build in risk; so, eventually, the team output will decrease. Even worse… team members would get demotivated, because humans like their freedom, and controlling them too much will make them look for other opportunities. It affects loyalty, happiness and work satisfaction.

Just because the job I had at the supermarket was a student job, I decided to stay on long enough to make sure my reputation was restored and that I could leave without suffering from the incident. It did not affect my image and a few years later, I got through an atomic clearance investigation for a military position without any trouble. However, I used to get insecure every time I met my supervisor, even as a customer of the supermarket!

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