Management and Trust

Management and Trust: A Twibinar with Esther Derby and Alan Shalloway

On July 16, 2012, Alan Shalloway and Esther Derby held a twibinar conversation on Trust and Management. Talking with each other and with attendees who participated via Twitter, they got into the important topic of trust in the organization, one of the necessary foundations for being able to scale Agile in the organization.

This conversation grew out of talks that Alan and Esther have been having about scaling Agile across teams. This quickly led to a broader conversation about trust as a necessary foundation for scaling.

Here are some of my notes from their conversation:

  • Trust grows in the doing. Alan finds that when there is an absence of trust between teams and management, it helps to have them start working together, to achieve small successes. This becomes a virtuous cycle of wins and confidence and trust. He does not always address the issue of trust head-on but lets trust emerge from what people do.
  • Trust is intentional. In Esther’s experience, the way to engender trust is to give trust, demonstrate trust, and then to have a process for maintaining trust and nurturing it.
  • Trust is active. It grows from small things. Having a common vision and goal is very helpful to build trust. When there is a lack of clarity in the organization about where we are going, who our customers are, how we want to interact with customers, how we want to relate with our employees, then it is very easy for people to have hidden agendas, hidden goals that might be at odds with the common vision of the company. That is where you get into trouble. This can lead to politicking and distrust. Making the common vision explicit gets everything into the open and that can build trust. It allows for accountability. And, hopefully, it means people can make generous interpretations of the actions of others.
  • Workflows are really about relationships. Alan says that having explicit workflows is also helpful in this way. Making workflows explicit is not about enforcing control; rather, it is a way for the team to agree together how they want to do work. This sort of concrete discussion helps the team to gel and trust. One advantage to focusing on workflows is that they are “neutral.” It is easier and less threatening to critique a process than to critique another person. Esther has another perspective. She believes that the vision and goals are most important. Without that common understanding, the organization as a whole is going to have problems. She observes that how Alan described “workflow” is not really about work definition but instead is about the relationships between people on a team. It is not the formal definitions of process that build trust. Trust emerges from the conversations and negotiations people have as they relate and aim toward the common goal.
  • Silos lead to distrust. They make it easy to miss seeing the common goals, to work on your own agendas, and not to value the differences that lead to creating value. It is also important to review policies to see that they reinforce trust. How often it is that policies broadcast that we don’t trust our employees to work like adults.