Signatures of Distrust in Agile Teams

Posted on 1/19/2012 by Rajeev Singh

Trust is one of the key attributes of any successful agile team. Its lack hurts the velocity and increases the stress level in members. This, in most cases, is unsustainable. I would recommend a thesis titled, 'The role of trust in strategic alliances' (Michaela Weinhofer, June 2007. Baltic Business School, University of Kalmar, Sweden). Two simple definitions of trust from the references in the thesis are:
  • Combination of credibility, predictability, and straightforwardness, and
  • Decision to rely on another party under the condition of risk.
The cooperative relationship required to achieve a common goal can hardly ever be built with distrust. The reason I say "hardly" is because experts (referenced in the above thesis) think cooperation and trust are independent entities. The relationship may be cooperative but not productive. I would also highly recommend The SPEED of Trust: The one Thing That Changes Everything by Stephen M. R. Covey.

For an agile team, how will you know that you are in a distrustful relationship? Here are some symptoms:
  • Perpetually prioritizing new functionality over defect fixes.
  • Continuous scrutiny of velocity, deep interest in individual developer velocity, pressure to sign-up more points than velocity.
  • Questioning story estimates beyond a reasonable limit.
  • Avoiding story splits fearing 2 plus 2 won't add up to 4.
  • Comparing actual effort to estimated effort.
  • Key leadership (technical and non-technical) entrusted to non-team members
  • Attempt to pile-on stories mid iteration in the interest of getting more done.
There are many reasons contributing to above situations. It could be lack of awareness or lack of experience with Agile. But don't discount the possibility of distrust as a driver.

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1 Response to "Signatures of Distrust in Agile Teams"

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Excelente CulinĂ¡rio Says....

Chief,

I agree with your points about distrust, but I'm not exactly sure about this one: Perpetually prioritizing new functionality over defect fixes. Could you please give an example of why this represents a distrustful relationship? To me this sounds more like a lack of big picture view and the denial of seeing the reality in benefit of a false feeling that the work is progressing on the way it should. But why you classify this as distrustful?

Gabriel