Trust the Team

Trust FallA watched pot never boils. Similarly, I believe a watched team never achieves their true potential.

As someone from outside the team, it can be difficult to give up control and trust the team to self-organise. Try to remember that unless you’re doing the work, you never really have control. As the team are the ones doing the work, you have to trust that they are also the best people to decide how the work gets done. When a team feels trusted, they will usually do all they can to retain that trust.

This message applies to anyone who relies on a scrum team to get things done: Management, Executives, Product Owners, Project Manager, Scrum Masters. You need to decide if you want to be a supporter, or a disrupter. If you’re constantly bugging a team about their progress, then you’re distracting them from making that progress. This is disruptive. not helpful. If the team knows you’re there to help them remove impediments, protect them from disrupters and answer their questions, then you’re a supporter. Team’s value their supporters but feel very different about their disrupters. It shouldn’t be hard to pick which side you want to be on.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how the team does it, as long as they deliver on their sprint forecast and meet the Definition of Done. That doesn’t mean you have to wait around for the end of each sprint waiting to see if the team is achieving yet. Here are some opportunities for supporting the team:

Make it clear that the team has control over what they take in. This is the best way for the team to really commit to what they’re forecasting to deliver. Consider leaving the room while they select items to show you trust them to make the best decisions.

Stand ups
This is a good opportunity to get a gauge on sprint progress but don’t interrupt. Answer questions if directed at you, or if the answer is long, make a time to discuss it after stand up. If things are looking dicey, you may ask the team at the end of stand up how they feel about their sprint forecast – is it still looking doable? But be careful not to be a nagging nanny. If you do then you risk the team becoming defensive, in which case it will be much more difficult to get an honest answer from them. If they say no, the sprint is no longer achievable, then at least you know sooner rather than later. Ask them if there’s anything you can do to help and encourage problem solving within the team.

Sprint Burndown
Other than lurking at stand-ups, another way to find out how the sprint is progressing is to check the sprint burndown and the scrum board. These artifacts save you from having to bug the team.

Impediment Removal
If the team raises an impediment and you can do something about it, then get onto it asap! If the team knows you’re there to support them, they will feel comfortable raising issues with you.

Sprint Review
Celebrate the team’s success. Focusing on positive outcomes can motivate teams to put in the effort to repeat them. If they failed, support them in their plans to improve next time. Ask them what you can do to help and suggest they consider that in the retrospective. Help them understand the value that they are delivering.

Trust is a two way street.  You need to show the team that you can be their trustworthy supporter.  Be honest and transparent and you increase the chance that your team will return in kind.

Related Books:

Scrum Mastery

Geoff Watts
Coaching Agile Teams

Lyssa Adkins
The Scrum Field Guide

Mitch Lacey

Categories: Communication, General

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 replies

  1. Interesting post, Cindy. Thanks for bringing the topic of trust again to the discussion as it is key to self-organization.
    I agree on every point you make here and I would add that beyond the limited nature of the control a manager or stakeholder can have in the work performed by a team we should consider the limitations on the knowledge as well. The team is the expert on what they do, as they are the ones doing it. Even if somebody is an expert in the field the team plays on, he/she is still missing the information one can obtain by working on the project tasks. Trust the team in knowing what they do and need; and support them by sharing the knowledge you have when they need it. Allow as well enough room for them to acquire new knowledge by making their own (safe) mistakes. Trust them to err and learn from it.
    BTW, I love the pictures! 🙂

  2. Thanks Javier. Great points! The team are definitely the experts on what they do and if they’re not, there is a lot more potential to learn from experimenting and making mistakes. Learning purely from other people telling you what to do is always limited.

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