RSS Feed

Latest Entries

First time here?


Creating Team Trust

Editor’s note: The following post was written by Johanna Rothman.

Johanna helps managers and leaders solve problems and seize opportunities. She consults, speaks, and writes on managing high-technology product development.  She enables managers, teams, and organizations to become more effective by applying her pragmatic approaches to the issues of project management, risk management, and people management.

She was the Agile 2009 Conference Chair, and has been helping teams, managers and organizations move to agile approaches for their projects and project portfolios.
Johanna publishes The Pragmatic Manager, a monthly email newsletter and podcast, and writes two blogs: Managing Product Development and Hiring Technical People. She is the author of several books:

Johanna is also a host and session leader at the Amplifying Your Effectiveness Conference. Find more of Johanna's articles and her blogs at


Is there such a thing as team trust? If so, why do you need it?

When team members have interdependent commitments, you want them to trust each other. Daughter #2, who's a senior in high school has been working on several "teams" with other seniors this year, doesn't trust her team.

"I know that I'll have to take up the slack when they don't do what they said they would do,"  has been her slogan all year.  If that's your approach, you don't have team trust.

In Solomon's Building Trust in Business, Politics, Relationships, and Life, he says that there are prerequisites to trust:

  • Deliver what you promise to deliver
  • Be consistent in your actions and reactions
  • Make integrity a cornerstone of your work
  • Be willing to discuss, influence, and negotiate.
  • Trust in yourself and your colleagues

Whether or not you have a real team, how do you create a trusting relationship with each person?  First, start with yourself.

Do you always deliver what you promise to deliver?

If you can't, why not? I've met many team leads who thought they could do the same amount of work as a team lead that they could do as an individual contributor without any overall commitment to the team.


Are you consistent in your actions and reactions?

Yes, you can become angry. No, you can't beat the table, say nasty thing to people or have other out-of-band reactions and still have trust.


Do you ever feel as if you have to swallow your professional integrity?

You might need to reframe what you think integrity is. Early in my career, I cared very much about the quality of the released product. I still care, and I realize that sometimes there are business decisions that trump actual quality. I now care very much about providing information about technical debt to the people who make the final decision.


Are you willing to discuss issues?

New team leads are particularly prone to "I would have done it this way, why didn't you?" syndrome. That's fine to say that to yourself. And, you need to discuss, influence, negotiate, and not tell people what to do.


Now, you can trust in yourself.

And, you can extend trust to your colleagues.
Trust is something people earn, by showing they are trustworthy. Prove yourself, to yourself, your team, your management. Then you can start building a trusting relationship with others.


How to plan and influence change at your company

In the book “Influencer”, the authors describe six forces that work together to influence any particular human behavior that we might want to change.

The forces that influence behavior are:

  1. Personal Motivation:   Why should someone care to behave a specific way?
  2. Personal Ability:         Can they literally do it?
  3. Social Motivation:       Is there peer pressure push for this behavior?
  4. Social Ability:             Do people around me support my behavior and help me out with it when i need help?
  5. Structural Motivation: Are there rewards\punishments for good\bad behavior?
  6. Structural Ability:       Does the physical environment support this behavior?

Thinking more about these forces, it’s easy to understand why so many of us are finding it so difficult to influence real change in our company. plenty of times we have no problems with influencing items #1 and #2 but the moment we leave our immediate surroundings we find that there is lack of social motivation (in fact, there is social motivation to behave differently!) and thus social ability.

in some cases, #3 and #4 are somehow made possible, but the way the organization and the environment we work in are designed prevents us from completing our change strategy.

here are some examples of common failures to implement change I've encountered. now i have a sort of dictionary to try and explain where we needed to exert influence and did not:

Implementing TDD at a large company failed partially because project managers did not agree to allow more than 20% of overhead time to write automate tests for the system. on top of that, C++ developers had a horrible time testing legacy C++ code, and could not\would not refactor it for testability.

in this case, #2 was lacking (we needed better tools, or better training to teach the difficult parts) but sometimes #1 was lacking as well when people did not want to touch existing code. that also touches on #3 (social motivation) since people were not having any kind of collective ownership of the code and so did not want to mess with someone else’s code.

lastly, we have #5 fail: project managers did not allow enough time to write tests,, resulting in actual “punishment” for such behavior.

Start out by finding the vital behaviors you want to change

Another eye opener for me was that the authors clearly explained that when you want to influence change, anywhere, you want to change no more than 2 or 3 vital human behaviors. find these behaviors, and you have the key to making real change happen.

for example, you feel that you consistently produce very low quality of released software with many bugs at the customer site. how do you know which behavior needs to change? what causes this?

one way the authors state is to look for the uncommon results in the crowd. for example, you may have a specific group or component that consistently presents the good things that you’d like to achieve for all other groups in the company (low bug counts). find out what is different in the behavior of that specific team of individual programmer that produces that different outcome. maybe they do Test-First development?

once you’ve uncovered this behavior(s) it’s time to find out why no one else is doing them.

Find the forces, Luke.

One of the sentences that has stuck most with me is the following:

Every behavior you see has been perfectly influenced by a world that was perfectly designed for this behavior to happen.

That means that in order to change a specific behavior, you need to first find out why this bad behavior (avoiding tests) exists in the first place. if you don’t fully address all the forces that made this behavior a reality, you will likely fail in changing that behavior.

You may find that there is just one, or all six forces at play here. In the problem of automated testing, you may find that people don’t know how to do it (can i do it?)  and might not even want to (#1) . not only that, their managers do not believe in this system, and so will kill any attempt to do this.

if you were, say, trying to push for better communication among team members as a behavior that’s missing, you may find that #6, the physical environment is actually something to address – perhaps the team is split in different rooms – putting them in the same room can help minimize communication cost.

Again, an important key here is that if you only address some of the forces that affect the current behavior, it is very likely that the quest for change will not work. you need to deal with all the forces that affect that current behavior.

The silver bullet

Doesn’t exist. Sorry. But with the six forces we now have a good language to talk about when dealing with implementing change in an organization.


Why XP’s influence is more effective than Scrum

in a previous post i explained what are the six forces that influence behavior. based on this, we can now begin to understand why some development methodologies are more effective when applying them at an organization or team level.

for example, Scrum, is a process that only deals with the behavior of the customer, the scrum master and the team at the beginning and end of each sprint (getting requirements, managing backlog, estimation..)

but Scrum does not address any of the team activities inside an iteration like XP does (pair programming, test driven development, continuous integration and automated builds, single room..)

but the fact is that it is precisely those things that XP advocates that have to do with the 5th and 6th forces (physical environment and rewards) that make the biggest difference in teams. XP really deals with all the forces that shape human behavior, thus influencing change during its application.

Scrum is a process that only uses a few of the forces and thus is harder to achieve as a standalone process. that’s why scrum and XP together (or XP alone) will always trump in terms of adoption (when done right) over bear Scrum.

can you guess which forces Scrum does not use to influence human behavior?


The funny thing is, Scrum is easier to adopt for management. I think this is specifically because there are less behavioral changes in Scrum (or at least appear to be). The truth is most if not all Scrum practitioners soon realize there is no Scrum possible without automated tests, Continuous integration, team in the same room and the other XP practices. but these are then introduced quietly into the process, or the process fails.

Why would it fail without them? because a team cannot be expected to product software on a weekly or biweekly basis without automated tests that help it overcome frequent change. it’s just reality. as a force it’s force #2  and #6 (“persona ability – can i do it?” and “structural ability = does the environment support my behavior”).


The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

As part of my reading, one book i came across was

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable (J-B Lencioni Series)

it’s a great book and i recommend that every team leader, at any level, read this.

it connects very well to many other things I’ve seen and learned in the wild, but manages to tell and explain things at a very simple and yet real world level that i think most would be able to relate to, even if they have no leadership experience.

what are the five dysfunctions?

1) Absence of Trust

you can detect this easily if you have meetings where no one disagrees with each other, but everyone probably disagree or don’t care what others are saying. also, meetings are very political in nature.

As a team you need to be able to trust each other, so that you can expose weakness in a “safe” manner without fear. this allows raising real issues that need to be taken care of. Also, lack of trust leads to the second dysfunction:

2) Fear of conflict

if you don’t trust each other, then you won’t want to confront any of your team mates in real world productive dialog about things that are hurting the team and company. without conflict people also won’t air their real opinions about things going on, which leads to the third dysfunction:

3) Lack of commitment

many times, people will not commit to any decision made by the team if they feel they had not been heard. most people are ok with at least saying what they want to say and they they are able to commit even to a group decision they were against. as long as they were heard. without that, they will not feel committed to decisions.

fear of conflict and commitment also leads to:

4) Avoidance of accountability

if people can’t openly confront each other about the real issues without fearing hurting each other, then people may not feel accountable for their (lack of) actions for the team and company. Sometimes the leader takes on the role of the “accountability confronter” but this should really be on all the team. otherwise people can sit quietly on issues they don’t like and quietly expect the leader to do all the hard lifting of confrontation, but a trusting team should be able to openly and honestly confront each other on business issues.

all these lead to:

5) Inattention to results

in this state, especially with lack of accountability, team members put individual needs above the team’s needs. if as a team we cannot deliver results – specific goals the team sets itself on a weekly, monthly  or yearly basis, – then what are we doing?


Other blogs on management and leadership