Trust is a fundamental aspect of our social life, with relevance to each area. While driving, we trust that others will follow the road rules. When starting a relationship, we believe that our partner will support us. Leaving our child at kindergarten, we believe that he or she will not come to any harm. And how about trust in our workplace?

Trust in the workplace

According to the Ernst & Young report “Global generations 3.0. A global study on trust in the workplace” published in 2016, less than half of full-time workers trust their employer, manager and colleagues. The study, which was conducted on an international scale, can easily be adapted to Polish conditions. Let’s quote another study, the CBOS survey conducted in Poland in March 2018: ”About 1/5 of respondents (22%) believe that the majority of people can be trusted. ¾ (76%) believe that we should be rather cautious and suspicious when it comes to relations with others”. When it comes to trust in business, the situation looks better though. 34% of CBOS respondents claim that trusting others in business is profitable, however 37% believe that it can bring negative results. 29% of respondents couldn’t decide.

The abovementioned results are not optimistic, as according to them almost half of all workers do not trust the people they work with. What are the consequences of such an approach? Decreased engagement, productivity, creativity, as well as unwillingness to put initiatives into practice. Lack of trust affects our perception of the workplace and the people we work with, which results in a constant feeling of insecurity.

In the article I would like to focus on trust in the workplace, based on the example of Scrum teams which I have been and am a member of.

Responsibility in Scrum

Scrum as a framework emphasizes work and self-organization. What does it mean? We leave behind the models in which finding solutions requires long-term planning, creating dozens of documents and managerial supervision. In a Scrum team we plan our work, dividing the workflow into shorter, for example bi-weekly, iterations called Sprints. It allows for control and flexibility, and we are able to identify potential risks and react accordingly. Instead of creating documentation, we develop functional software.

In such a self-organizing team, responsibility plays a key role. In a Scrum Guide we can read the following: “Cross-functional teams have all the competencies needed to accomplish the work without depending on others who are not part of the team”. In other words, there is a collective responsibility in Scrum, since particular workers are not responsible for accomplishing particular tasks. Sceptics may say, though: “Collective responsibility results in an approach wherein no one takes responsibility for carrying out tasks”. If you experience such an approach in any team, whether Scrum or not, this might mean that there are some abnormalities in the way it functions.

Trust in Scrum

From my own experience as a Scrum Master I can say that making an entire team responsible for carrying out work may have a positive influence in terms of motivation. Most importantly, thanks to such an approach we receive a product of maximized value. A developer who is an expert in his particular field knows all the pros and cons, the potential possibilities and risks in terms of technical implementation. Also, daily communication with a client and openness in the context of problems and chances should result in the delivery of a fully functional part of an application to a Product Owner.

Scrum values

  • Courage – Let’s imagine a situation in which a developer, while working on a task assigned to him, encounters difficulties in accomplishing the task due to lack of technical knowledge. He starts to think it over: where to obtain the technical knowledge? Maybe working overtime is the solution? How to avoid letting the development team down? He is afraid of admitting that he needs to be supported by other team members. Courage in Scrum means the ability to admit out loud: “I need you to support me.”
  • Openness – being open is part and parcel of a teamwork model, hence the expression “No man is an island”. Being open means the willingness to try new solutions, ideas and sometimes amend one’s way of thinking. Maybe another developer has a different approach and idea when it comes to accomplishing a troublesome task? In Scrum it is also important to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of a team and not to hide the truth from either themselves or stakeholders.
  • Engagement – Following our example, let’s assume that the developer had the courage to share his doubts with the team, and the team reacted with openness and willingness to help. Once help has been declared, we then proceed to the next step. We fully commit to resolving the problem. Together, both the developer and the development team do their best to resolve the setback.
  • Respect – the developer must rest assured that as he finds courage and openness, the team responds in a respectful manner, supporting him and searching for an adequate solution. In Scrum teams, where communication plays a key role, respect is absolutely essential. A variety of situations may arise when it comes to everyday communication. We all have different opinions, ideas, and sometimes it is necessary to analyze failures. In such models constructive criticism and mutual respect are necessary to build trust.
  • Focus – It is important to stay focused while resolving problems and prioritizing tasks. In the aforementioned situation, in order to help the developer, we take other tasks that we have to fulfill within the Sprint into consideration and try to resolve the problem in an agile manner. Maybe it is worth thinking about the easiest possible solution, so that other tasks in the Sprint are not affected? To obtain optimal effects, synergy, focus and taking others’ ideas into consideration are necessary – these always bring about the best final results.

Benefits:

In my daily work as a Scrum Master I have observed various situations and what I have noticed was the fact that personal failure within a team is much more severe than a failure witnessed by a line manager or a client. In Scrum we are all team members and together we strive to deliver the best possible value. The consequences of lack of trust, which I mentioned at the beginning of the article – lack of engagement, creativity and initiative – can be destructive for a team working in a Scrum framework, where in fact these values are a basis of its functioning. Let’s get back to the importance of responsibility: it makes us act reliably as we try not to let the team who puts its trust in us down. We strive to accomplish our work in the best possible manner. When it comes to leaders, it is their role to build an atmosphere of mutual trust. Observing such role models, it is easier to form teams based on trust, engagement and mutual assistance.

Author
Łukasz Tudzierz

Scrum Master at JCommerce, currently working on a project for a German client who supports institutions and organizations in the area of digital transformation. He believes in empiricism and iteration and teaches Scrum Teams independence and responsibility. Outside of work, he’s a mountaineer and climber, as well as the operator of the Tuudi.net portal.

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