Silo Busting Strategy #2: Attend, Befriend, Defend

January 8, 2011

There is a simple slogan that we can use when trying to approach groups in silos: attend, befriend, and defend. The idea works like this:

Attend

The first thing that we need to do is make ourselves available to the group as much as we can. We need to show up for the team meetings or events. In lean terms, you might think of it as going to the gemba. You need to be where the action is. This may involve getting yourself invited to meetings, usually the most boring and uninteresting meetings. You take anything you can get. Then you have to be there all the time, religiously. They have to come to believe that you are genuinely interested and part of their process.

Befriend

Once you have the attendance part down, then it is time to make a few friends. You need to be that smiling face in the room that is ready and willing to help with even the most inconsequential problems. In fact, beginning with the small problems is probably the best way to start. We need to be there to offer help, and then when the offer is accepted, deliver. This is really all about building up trust with the new group. It is just trust with only you, but you have to start somewhere. You do everything you can to build that relationship. Go out for a beer, Invite them to your team meetings, join the softball team. Do whatever it takes.

Defend

Finally, it is inevitable that they are facing challenges; this is where you can really make a difference. When the opportunity arises, be there to defend the group. Make sure that you radiate the fact that you trust and support the work the group does. Not only does this serve to cement the trust you are trying to build within the group, but it also informs the rest of the organization that you are working together and share common goals.

 


Understanding “There Is Only Us”

June 19, 2009
This was a panel discussion with some remarkable names in the agile community including Alastair Cockburn, Brian Marick, Diana Larson, Israel Gat, Polyanna Pixton, and a few others. Much of the discussion was about the role of trust on Agile teams. This topic resonates for me because I have recently started to look for trust issues on teams *before* I look for whether or not they have adopted agile practices. Without trust, the rest is hard to do. When there is an issue with trust on a team everything slows down. It creates a kind of social friction that makes even the simplest tasks more difficult. Team members who don’t trust each other will argue more, revisit old disputes, avoid supporting each other, and even go out of their way to undermine each other. Simple issues that should be resolved by the team end up getting blown out of proportion and escalated to management on a regular basis.
The amount of distraction and friction that is created can be really quite stunning. I don’t profess to have any superior insight into trust and team dynamics – I suffer the same disfunctions here as anyone else. But when I find a team that at a fundamental level is having obvious trust issues, then I know that as a Scrum Master or Coach, I’m in for a rough ride. Nor do I have any particular insight into how to solve the problem. I know that making the team do trust falls probably isn’t going to resolve anything. If I’m honest, I’ve failed as often as I’ve succeeded when it comes to dealing with trust issues on teams.
There are few things that I need to remind myself of when in a situation where there is a paucity of trust:
1) This is going to take a long time. Short of firing people, trust issues don’t go away overnight. While sometimes there is merit in removing someone from the team, for the sake of this discussion I will focus on the more constructive aspects of working with a team to build trust.
2) If you are just starting with the team, you have to become just another member of the team. Often when I start with a team, I often find myself using terminology that separates us. “They” have problems. “I” will fix “them”. Now you might fault my language, but to me language like that simply tells me that I haven’t yet fully integrated with the team. I have to move from refering to “them” to talking about “us”. That takes me a while. I have to live with the team, work with them for a while and basically become part of the team ecosystem. I need to “go native” and stop looking at them like an outsider.
3) You have to be willing to make and admit mistakes – a lot of them. Things will get messy when you are dealing with trust issues. I want the team to see that I’m just as committed, dedicated, messed-up and neurotic as they are. It’s a hell of a lot of work. But if you can open up and be vulnerable in front of the team in some small way, I think you win the trust of the team that much faster.
4) In a very real way, what I’m trying to do is get them to trust me, even if they don’t necessarily trust each other. Part of the game of being a coach is becoming a connector for people. Helping them to find other people who can help them out. If they can come to trust me a little, then I can begin to connect the dots and point them to others on the team who also trust me – a little.
These are the kinds of things that are going through my mind when I’m working with a team that appears to have significant trust issues. I’m looking for connections, seeking ways to hilight my own mistakes, watching my language for symptoms of “me” and “them” and most of all, being very patient. I make no claim to to any sort of stunning insight into these issues. However, I’m a little surprised to see how much I have to say on the topic!
These were the thoughts that were rebounding about my skull as I was listening to the panel talk about the myriad issues surrounding trust on Agile teams. It was a good discussion and I almost wish I could have joined in the conversation they were having. At first I didn’t really understand the title of the discussion, “There Is Only Us” (how weird!), but perhaps now I understand it better. For me, working with a team is best when it is not “me” and “them”, but rather when “There Is Only Us”.

There was an interesting panel discussion on the first day at Agile Roots 2009 that included some remarkable people in the agile community including: Alastair Cockburn, Brian Marick, Diana Larson, Israel Gat, Polyanna Pixton, and a few others who deserve mention but their names escape me. The title of the session was “There Is Only Us”. I thought it was rather peculiar title. Much of the discussion was about the role of trust on Agile teams.

The topic of trust resonates strongly for me because I have recently started to actively look for trust issues on teams *before* I look for whether or not they have adopted agile practices. Without trust, the rest is hard to do. When there is an issue with trust on a team everything slows down. It creates a kind of social friction that makes even the simplest tasks more difficult. Team members who don’t trust each other will argue more, revisit old disputes, avoid supporting each other, and even go out of their way to undermine each other. Simple issues that should be resolved by the team end up getting blown out of proportion and escalated to management on a regular basis.

The amount of distraction and friction that is created can be really quite stunning. I don’t profess to have any superior insight into trust and team dynamics – I suffer the same disfunctions here as anyone else. But when I find a team that at a fundamental level is having obvious trust issues, then I know that as a scrum master or coach I’m in for a rough ride. Nor do I have any particular insight into how to solve the problem. I know that making the team do trust falls probably isn’t going to resolve anything. If I’m honest, I’ve probably failed as often as I’ve succeeded when it comes to dealing with trust issues on teams.

There are few things that I try to remind myself of when in a situation where there is a paucity of trust:

  1. This is going to take a long time. Short of firing people, trust issues don’t go away overnight. While sometimes there is merit in removing someone from the team, for the sake of this discussion I will focus on the more constructive aspects of working with a team to build trust.
  2. If you are just starting with the team, you have to become just another member of the team. Often when I start with a team, I often find myself using terminology that separates us. “They” have problems. “I” will fix “them”. Now you might fault my language, but to me language like that simply tells me that I haven’t yet fully integrated with the team. I have to move from refering to “them” to talking about “us”. That takes me a while. I have to live with the team, work with them for a while and basically become part of the team ecosystem. I need to “go native” and stop looking at them like an outsider.
  3. You have to be willing to make and admit mistakes – a lot of them. Things will get messy when you are dealing with trust issues. I want the team to see that I’m just as committed, dedicated, messed-up and neurotic as they are. It’s a hell of a lot of work. But if you can open up and be vulnerable in front of the team in some small way, I think you win the trust of the team that much faster.
  4. In a very real way, what I’m trying to do is get them to trust me, even if they don’t necessarily trust each other. Part of the game of being a coach is becoming a connector for people. Helping them to find other people who can help them out. If they can come to trust me a little, then I can begin to connect the dots and point them to others on the team who also trust me – a little.

These are the kinds of things that are going through my mind when I’m working with a team that appears to have significant trust issues. I’m looking for connections, seeking ways to hilight my own mistakes, watching my language for symptoms of “me” and “them” and most of all, being very patient. While I have no claim to expertise, I’m a little surprised to see how much I have to say on the topic! Funny how that happens.

These were the thoughts that were rebounding about my skull as I was listening to the panel talk about the myriad issues surrounding trust on Agile teams. It was a good discussion and I almost wish I could have joined in the conversation they were having. At first I didn’t really understand the title of the discussion, “There Is Only Us” (how weird!), but perhaps now I understand it better. For me, working with a team is best when it is not “me” and “them”, but rather when “There Is Only Us”.