Importance of Trust in Agile Teams

Scrum mentions five values – Commitment, Transparency, Courage, Openness and Respect. Scrum teams need to inculcate these values to be Agile. Practicing the ceremonies makes teams ‘Do Agile’ while these values would help them to ‘Be Agile’.

Every one of these values is most important and in a way they are all inter-related. Without commitment, there cannot be transparency in a team. Transparency helps teams to learn to respect and all these need courage. With that it is possible for team members to be open about everything that is concerning the team. That’s one way of looking at it. We can argue without courage none of the other values can be practiced. So there is not one value which is most important and all are equally important in my opinion.

While it is easy to say values are most important and that team members need to be ‘committed’ and so on, how do we know whether team members have the kind of commitment needed. These values cannot be measured as metrics. One has to observe the team during ceremonies, interactions, daily work and so on. The language of team members, their emotions, body language and so on would give an idea about how well these values are inculcated by the team members.

I found that even observing interactions among team members need not lead to such conclusions. Let me give an example of a team which I coached some time back.

One day I saw that two team members were exchanging pleasantries in the morning as soon as they came to office and were having a very nice friendly chat and few other team members joined and all had a good time discussing about day’s weather, someone’s new dress and so on. I thought ‘Oh good, there seems to be good bonding among team members here’. Couple of days later I happened to conduct an activity with the team where they share their likes and dislikes. Every member talks about likes and dislikes and they all discuss and try to understand what is liked in the team and what is not. That is the purpose of the activity. It is a simple one to start with as it takes quite a while for teams to share real stuff. It is a good thing to repeat this activity every 3-4 months taking the issues deeper every time.

Well, when we started to discuss the points brought out by team members, one of them mentioned an event that happened recently at work which created unhappiness and said such things should be avoided. That concerned another couple of team members and instantly there were lots of justifications, discussions and soon it turned out to be a verbal fight almost. I was aghast! What is happening? A simple exercise and such strong reactions! I had to have few meetings to sort this out and finally everything was settled! It was clear that team members lacked trust and I was not able to find it out for a while.

This showed me that mere observation of team members and their language and so on may not give an idea about the reality. If there is no trust, there could be a lot of artificiality which is not easy to figure out. And team exercises are sometimes a great way to bring them out. The first thing we would want to know is whether there is good trust among team members. If not, building trust would be the first thing I would focus on as a coach.

This is just one example of how difficult it is to identify trust issues in Agile teams. I am sure you would have your own experiences while working in teams or coaching teams and would love to hear from you about them. Also please do not forget to send your comments, suggestions on this blog.

What do you think?

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