I firmly believe trust is the secret sauce to a highly performing team.  I also believe that without it, a team will never be great and is likely, in fact, to fail.  When teams have trust they speak plainly and openly to each other because it is safe to do so.  They will be open to trying new approaches and listening to ideas because they trust their team-mate.  They will joke around with and support each other.  When there’s no trust, managers are copied in e-mails.  Play by plays of the retro leave the room.  The team room is quiet.  Factions form.  It’s ugly.

Many years back I was coaching a team that was doing pretty well.  A manager came over and told me they were going to combine two teams together and I would be the coach.  Um…..oooooooooooook.  To say that neither team was thrilled would be an under-statement.  Even the introductions were tense.  Then came moving day.  The new team moved into my “old” teams digs. Moving members didn’t like the room arrangement.  Already moved members liked where they were sitting just fine.  I’m sure you get the idea and this was just the beginning.

None of the team members wanted to make an effort with those who weren’t part of the original.  Planning was a nightmare.  There was no collaboration.  They planned within their old team lines.  They divided the board in half.  I didn’t know what to do.  Naively, I felt they would work through this and all would somehow be right with the world.  Luckily, I had a mentor coach in the organization to whom I turned for advice.  His advice?  You need a good retro.

He helped me craft the retro and I wish I could remember the activity, but I cannot.  What I remember was it got the conversation started and kept the conversation going.  And going.  And going.  And going.  They didn’t trust each other at all.  Each team felt like the other was judging them.  They each felt the other thought they were better.  They both thought I cared more about the team I was originally with!  They were both worried that all the good they had built up as separate units would vanish if they didn’t take steps to preserve it.  Ah HA!  Now we’re getting somewhere!

Eight hours later.  Yes.  E-I-G-H-T hours later the team had created a joint vision, joint norms and proceeded to re-arrange the room.  Any artifact previously on the walls was pulled down.  A new team was born.  And, they were awesome.  Truly, powerfully awesome until a short time later when they were split up again.  *sigh*

Here’s what I learned from that experience:

  • Trust on teams is incredibly important.
  • A teams identity is also very important.  You have to coach them through establishing one.
  • Don’t sit back when you see a team doesn’t have trust.  Get to the bottom of it quickly.
  • It’s OK to have an agenda as a Scrum Master when you go into a Retro.
  • Teams will solve the problem for themselves when they realize what the problem is, that they are a team and that they can.

What experiences have you seen when there’s been a lack of trust on a team?

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