Do you really trust your team?

“Don’t worry, I will pick that up.”

Sounds good right? Someone taking ownership and picking up the next thing. And sure, taking ownership is good indeed. However, sometimes we quickly pick things up that are “our job” and we might feel responsible, but also afraid that someone else will fuck up, if they pick up the task.

What is trust?

We all have a clear picture of what it means to trust someone, don’t we? We trust them not to do us harm. We believe they are honest and reliable. In the Cambridge dictionary I found the following definition:

to believe that someone is good and honest and will not harm you, or that something is safe and reliable Source

It seems that most people think about trust in this context. The belief that someone has the best intentions and is honest. They won’t stab you in your back. And in that context, of course you trust your team!

But the definition is incomplete. I like the version from the Oxford dictionary:

Believe in the reliability, truth, or ability of (subject) – Source

A very important addition here is to trust in someone’s ability. If you trust your team, do you trust them to be able to do “your” tasks?

Task driven to goal driven

When you work as a team in an Agile world, you commit to an amount of work. The idea behind a user story is that the “how” is not specified. This is very different from traditional task driven project management. Because the tasks are to be defined by the team, you are able to take advantage of the team’s know-how. But this only works if trust is truly embedded in the organization. If you are able to trust the ability of everyone in the team, you do not have to assign tasks to individuals. Also, you have to trust that they will ask for help of they get stuck or are unsure about some decision.

Making sure the team understands the goal and then trusting them to find the best way to achieve this goal within their ability is a crucially important part of becoming more agile. To do this, you have to trust your team. But would you trust a team that doesn’t show they can be trusted as a team?

My work to our work

If you are part of the team that committed to achieving a goal with clear business value, are you ready to pick this up together? What I have often noticed is that when a team divides the work in a planning session, the tasks are still made for individuals. During the estimation of the work, the team expects certain team members to be there. Perhaps the work is still organized with specialism in mind, instead of business value, so it is hard to estimate for anyone, except the expert in the team for the particular specialism.

To work as a team, the work packages should be organized in such a way that the whole team can get involved. And during execution, new work should not be added until the existing commitment has been done. Maybe that also means supporting the expert with others from the team, giving the others the chance to learn something in the process.

So instead of “Don’t worry, I will pick that up.” Try to explain the work so everyone in the team understands enough to be able to contribute. Don’t accept anyone keeping things only on their plate. Remind them that they are part of a team and everyone needs to be able to get involved. Perhaps not everyone will get involved with every particular task, but at least make sure that you are not depending on one person to fix some impediment for you. Get involved and help out. That’s how you build trust in everyone’s abilities, work together and learn together.

There is no “my work” in a true team. It’s about our work.

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