Agile Culture: Management and Trust

I recently led a discussion on the impacts of Agile on the culture of an organization.  I shared that if your company is undergoing an Agile transformation and you aren’t uncomfortable, then you aren’t stretching enough.  Agile is uncomfortable.  It is awesome and the positive impacts on productivity, collaboration and customer and employee satisfaction are profound.  But getting there can be bumpy.  This blog is dedicated to the subject of trust and how it plays out with management.

Trust and Teenagers


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A good analogy on trust is college freshman.  If anyone has sent away a child, niece, nephew or neighbor, then you know something about trust.  When we send our loved ones away to a land of temptation with minimal supervision and high expectations, we have to trust them.  How do we do that?  Well, hopefully a number of factors are working towards the positive.  We hope the following about college freshmen:

–          They have a strong foundation

–          They are smart/intelligent

–          They are capable of learning from their mistakes

If an 18 year old has these qualities, they will probably fare well in their new environment.  They have a foundation of values and experiences that will influence their decisions, they are smart people who can navigate through new experiences and if they do make a wrong turn, they can learn from their mistakes and course correct.

So why is it that we are able to trust immature and hormonal teenagers but we cannot trust our employees?  Are the same factors not also true about our employees?

Trust and Agile

Some managers think they trust their employees but actions prove otherwise.  Let’s look at an example.

Scott, a developer on a Scrum team, comes to the manager with a suggestion.  “The team has come up with an idea.  We want to try rotating Scrum Masters for a few sprints.”

Now you have been around the block a time or two and you know that rotating Scrum Masters is not something that experts like Mike Cohn recommend.  Many Scrum practioners believe that an assigned Scrum Master signifies the appropriate respect for this challenging role and provides the runway for a new Scrum Master to learn and grow in their position.  You may have even worked in a company that tried this without success.  There are many ways that you could respond; we will explore two.

Response 1: “That won’t work.  We tried that once at another company and it failed.  Plus there is a mountain of data that shows that is the wrong approach.  Sam will be your Scrum Master.  Anything else?”

This is a strong and decisive manager.  He states his case, provides reasons why he doesn’t agree, offers a solution and is ready to move on.  A strong and decisive manager? Yes.  An Agile manager? No.

Response 2: “That is interesting.  What led you to that conclusion?”

Developer: “We all understand Scrum so we are familiar with the processes and ceremonies.  And we all really love to write code so no one wants to be removed from writing code on a long term basis.”

Agile Manager: “Well, if that is what the team wants, you are self-organized so go for it and I will be interested in your feedback on how you like it.  Are there any roadblocks that I can clear to make this happen?”

There is a big difference in this response.  First, the manager asked a question.  Why?  Had the team thought through this idea?  Or were they just throwing out suggestions to see what would stick?  Was the team aware of the risks and trade-offs with their recommendation?  The answers that the Agile manager received indicate that the team had put the appropriate thought and consideration into their idea.  The team appears to be coming from a strong foundation, their thought processes indicate intellect and they appear perfectly capable of learning from their mistakes.  Should we trust them?  Agile says YES!

Show Trust Tomorrow

Trust is easy to talk about and even easy to think you are doing, when you are not.  The next time you have a conversation with an employee, check yourself.  How often to you offer your opinion?  How often do you directly tell them what to do?  Are employees coming to ask for your permission?  Start trusting.  That will lead to empowerment which will lead to Agility and that is better for everyone.

For more on Agile Culture, please visit the blogs on TeamworkTransparency and the Organization.


To learn more, please reference the book Change, Inc.: An Agile Fable of Transformation available on

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