Trust Your (Bleep)ing Team!

Here is an issue that has come up over and over again – scrum masters and product owners that don’t trust the teams they work with. I’ve struggled with this problem myself over the years, so I can definitely relate to the mistrust. Here’s my favorite example:

Sandbagging: The team is not delivering 100% of their stories each sprint. The team is not pulling as much work as you would expect each sprint. Everyone is coming in late and leaving early. No one is staying late nights to make sure that stories are absolutely done before the end of the sprint.

There you are as the Scrum Master, tearing your hair out in frustration, trying to figure out how to get the team to step up and deliver. Well, if this goes on for very long, you end up not trusting the team. After all, their commitments seem to mean little, they just go through the motions, etc. Of course, here’s a news flash – they don’t trust you either. In my experience, teams can almost always read you like a book. They know it when you don’t trust them. They know it when you think it’s “their” problem. They aren’t stupid. This just further increases the sense of alienation between the two sides. It further limits your ability to be an effective member of the team.

I think that often times when we get to that place of mistrust we are doing something very fundamental and very destructive to the relationship with the team. We are making the problems, what ever they may be, someone elses problem. It’s the team’s problem, not yours. It is something that is inherent in their nature – they are somehow flawed. If they would just somehow, “Get it” then our problems would be solved. Of course nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that everyone plays an important role in this dance of trust. If you really want to address the problem, you have to be ready and able to take responsibility for your part in the problem. Because as scrum master or product owner, you are part of the problem, like it or not.

So what is the solution to this problem? Trust your (bleep)ing team! That’s right, get that mistrust monkey off of your back – take it from me, that particular simian has nothing constructive to offer. Let the team know that you trust them completely – 100%

You’re never going to make significant progress as long as you and the team distrust one another. Guaranteed.

Then start looking for the impediments that are holding them up. Maybe the first and most difficult impediment to remove is any mistrust we may have with the team.

One Response to Trust Your (Bleep)ing Team!

  1. I’ve experienced this same thing multiple times–

    PO (product owner): This team is always late and never makes their sprint goals… we need to give them more work.
    SM (scrum master, me): how will that help?
    PO: they’ll feel more pressure and by cracking the whip over their head, they get more done. I don’t think they are taking the deadline seriously.
    SM: won’t that just distract them or even worse make them not care because they have a completely unrealistic goal?
    PO: well, they don’t seem to care now… maybe we should move the deadline up so that we have some buffer.
    SM: are you going to get the beta customer to lie to them with you?
    PO: good point, maybe I’ll add some more functionality so that we can descope it and make the delivery.
    SM: sounds like you are just playing games for upper management… what is the team doing that you don’t like?
    PO: I ask for things at sprint planning and they don’t deliver it at sprint review.
    SM: Do they commit to it at sprint planning?
    PO: What I tell them is their committment!
    SM: hmmm… maybe that’s why they don’t deliver by the end of the sprint… you don’t trust them enough to let them help you make a realistic plan.

    … the story ends when I’ve convinced management that regardless how much they believe the team is sandbagging their estimates, the team has never over-estimated. Actually, they’ve always under-estimated (even when using story points). They normally listen to me when I’m willing to bet a paycheck or my job on them proving me wrong, which gets them to believe that I might be more in tune with the team than they are and they should trust the team a little more.

    Hopefully I’ll never coach a team where the members actually don’t care. Of course, then I probably deserve to be fired since I haven’t done my job well.

    Great topic!

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