Why is “Trusting” So Hard?

I’ve been training and coaching agile teams for more than 15 years. While I’ve seen quite a lot of unique dysfunctions, one of the most prevalent is the overall lack of trust leadership trust in their teams.

There, I said it.

Quite often I use the term “little t” trust so that folks aren’t too offended, because really, nobody wants to admit that they don’t TRUST someone in today’s organizations. At least not out loud and visibly.

But the harsh reality is that most leaders do no trust their teams. And the other, even harsher reality, is that the teams know that they are untrusted.

What are some of the forms of distrust?

  • Leaders who challenge the teams plans and estimates to harshly – always trying to influence lower estimates;
  • Leaders who fail to understand previous, in-process commitments and overwhelm the team with more work than they are capable of;
  • Leaders who say things behind the team’s backs, but won’t say it to their faces;

Are just a hand-full of the behaviors I see (or hear about) all of the time.

Earning Trust

Usually when I confront someone with this behavior, the discussion turns to the team having not yet earned the trust of the leader or the organization. I disagree with this line of defense. I think it’s a smoke screen to enable a distrustful culture.

Giving Trust

I believe trust first has to be given away to change an inherently distrustful culture. Leaders have to set the example and – Trust First.

Once they show that THEY can be trusted to trust. The teams will be paying attention. First they’ll get rid of their own baggage and will start coming around to believe & trust.

When the going gets tough – Trust

True trust. Deep trust. Real trust can’t be measured when things are going well. Rather, when things are going poorly and the pressure is on you from every direction, do you still trust your teams?

That’s the true measure of your commitment to trust.

Either Fire them…Or Trust Them

I often have this discussion with leaders surrounding trust. I explain that most organizations hire really good people. They have solid hiring practices and hire trustworthy professionals.

Then they bring them into the organization and limit their capabilities and results by not extending trust.

My usual response to this is: if you’ve hired bad people, then fire them. If you’ve hired good people, then give them a mission, trust them, and get out of their way. It’s as simple as that to create high-performance teams.

Sidebar

I once was working with an organization. I very, very long time ago.

They called me in to help them in their agile transformation. One of the first observation I made was that senior leadership really didn’t trust the capabilities of the Product Management staff. Of perhaps 20-30 Product Owners, only 2-3 were considered experienced enough in the business domain to make decisions that the leadership team was sound.  

In general, senior staff did not trust their Product Owners. So they micro-managed their decision making at all turns.

I asked them if they had shared their concerns with the Product Owners, and the answer was no.

I asked if they were mentoring and training the Product Owners, and the answer was no.

I asked if they thought the Product Owners were aware of the lack of confidence, the lack of trust, and the answer was no. The actual answer was a resounding – yes, they were!

I asked if this was affecting the teams and their ability to stand-and-deliver? The answer was no. The actual answer was yes, teams felt adrift with un-empowered Product Owners.

There next planned step was to go through a reorganization (one of many recently) to try and better align their product organization. I told them that their root problem was trust and not the structure.

I’ll leave it to you to decide what happened next and the ultimate journey of this organization. In other words, how successful do you think they were without trust?

Wrapping Up

I’ve discussed this topic before, so if you search the blog for “trust”, you’ll get 2-3 more of my rantings on the topic.

But I want you to take the topic seriously. In so many ways, effective agile transformation boils down to is trust.

When I ask leaders if they want to be trusted, the answer is unanimously, yes. Well then if you want it, doesn’t it stand to reason that your teams do as well? I also think you “owe it” to them.

I know it’s hard to “let go” of things, but the results of doing so are usually so much better than your fears. Everyone, simply let go and trust your teams. You just might be surprised by the results…

Stay agile my friends,

Bob.

Have questions?






Bob Galen

Bob Galen

Bob Galen is an Agile Methodologist, Practitioner & Coach based in Cary, NC. In this role he helps guide companies and teams in their pragmatic adoption and organizational shift towards Scrum and other agile methodologies and practices. Contact: [email protected]