TRUST – The Unspoken Element of Being Agile
Madhavi Ledalla

Having worked with varied teams with different personalities, one of the realization for me is that “TRUST” plays a key role in team bonding and getting to a high performing stage. While there are many factors that reach teams to the stage of high performance, I have put here my interpretation of trust which I believe is vital for building a great team.

Trust can be viewed from three different dimensions as mentioned below.

  • Trust between the team members on each other
  • Trust on the team by the management
  • Trust on the management by the team

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Figure 1

Let us recall the difference between a team and a working group. A team is a group of people working towards a shared common goal where as a group is a collection of people who coordinate their individual efforts.


The Trust Blockers and Enablers

Generally when an Agile team, specifically a Scrum team is formed, the behavior of the team members trying to showcase their individual work and hesitating from sharing knowledge with the rest of the team is observed in few instances. This behavior can be attributed to the way of working the teams are accustomed to from many years, and any sudden change would for sure call for a resistance. Scrum Masters and Managers, when they notice such symptoms, need to talk to the team members, understand what was motivating them before and what is not after the change. They need to empathize and be approachable to the team and do one-to-one coaching to understand the root cause for this behavior.  They need to coach the team to make them realize that they are all in the game together and they win and lose as a team! The norm seen in some of the agile teams is that even though teams are formed with members from different functions like testing, development etc. the team members still report to their functional managers. In such situations, the functional managers might play a key role by understanding how a cross-functional agile team works and guiding them, and restraining from giving preference to their individual functions. If the ecosystem is not supportive and encouraging, then any great process and practices put in place would not yield the expected results.

Similarly, the team needs to appreciate the new way of working. They need to be true to themselves first and then to their team members and to the management.  Team needs to get the concept of self-organizing and should be ready to take up the work, forecast what is achievable by them and step up to take ownership for their commitments.

Any one dimension of trust not being present effects the whole ecosystem and brings the motivation down. The importance of trust is evident even from the statistics, the Version One Annual State of Agile™ Report states that – lack of management support, unwillingness of the team to follow agile, development team support etc. are some of barriers to Agile adoption. If we reflect on these barriers, some of them could be related to people issues and trust factor could play an important role here.


When team members and management trust each other, automatically the team members go an extra mile and work outside their boundaries without being asked for. Trust leads to motivation of the team, and they strive to give their best that eventually makes them committed. Think of these traits as a vicious circle where each one of them impacts and leads to the next one. May be we can visualize trust as a super planet driving all other behavioral planets.

Figure 2

There is always a factor of egoism that often pops up and not all team members like to work with each other. They would like to be in their own comfort zones for whatever reasons. Building trust within the team takes its own natural course, I would say it is a journey and it takes time to get there! There is no one right answer of how to build trust quickly, to some extent it might depend on the attitude of the people involved.

Trust can be perceived as the foundation for the 5 Scrum values –    Openness, Courage, Respect, Commitment and Focus. I feel if the team members basically trust each other and the management, then they would be courageous to commit and be open to voice their opinions, willing to share their work and respect each other, willing to focus together on the team goal and all these ultimately would lead to commitment.


Figure 3


Having said that, keeping the foundation strong is not an easy job, everyone has to be together in the game!

Signs and Implications of Mistrust

Here are some statements that could be an indication for the foundation getting weak,

  • I don’t know about what is happening in the sprint.
  • I am not able to collaborate.
  • I don’t understand why I am being questioned for my work.
  • I have sent an email, I am waiting for a response (thought the person sits next to you)
  • Why do you need 10 hrs? If I were you I can do in one hour.
  • Why is the velocity not increasing, I expect a trajectory in the velocity.
  • We are an agile team, no one can question us on what we want to do.
  • Comeback to us only on last day.
  • I am working on many other organizational initiates not being shown as sprint work, where is that effort getting tracked?
  • Why am I not being recognized for my extra mile?
  • I need documentation evidence for every discussion.


Here are some of the implications of lack of trust from the three dimensions

  •  Within the team- Team members questioning each other on time spent and not convinced with each other’s arguments, hiding work and not willing to share work and help each other. Team members stepping into other’s shoes, trying to showcase their own superior work.
  • Management on the Team –   Management asking for reports, proofs and questioning the team on every hour spent due to the lack of visibility into what has been done.
  • Team on the Management– Team plays with hours and estimates, team does not step up when there is a need.

Tipping Point

Figure 4

All of us know the Tuckman ladder stages that the teams go through, i.e. Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.  If at some point, that can be viewed as the tipping point, say the team isn’t really getting together for whatever reason, may be it is worth to dismantle the team and try with a new combination. Seed them in different teams where the ecosystem and the environment is new.  It is like when you make new friends and experience new things, the perspective changes and things might become better. This is just a thought and might not work for every team and may not be the right decision.


The Agile Principles

When peeked into the Agile Principles, I felt some of them implicitly highlight the importance of trust in some form or the other. Here is how:

  • Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project: Helps build TRUST between the team and the business.
  • Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, trust them to get the job done: The need of TRUST is explicitly highlighted here.
  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversationFace to face conversation leads to developing the TRUST.
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts
    its behaviour accordingly: Regular reflections and open discussions helps build TRUST among the team.
  • Working software is the primary measure of progress: Helps gain the TRUST from the customers as they get to see what is happening on their product and are notified of any bottlenecks as they come up.


My parting message: Behind every great team building great software, there is trust. One has to work hard at times to build it, but it is totally worth it.


Madhavi Ledalla

I am an Agile Coach with technology back ground and end-to-end development experience with MS Technologies. My passion for Agile has led me to working on leading large scale Agile transformations through training and coaching teams. I have keen interest in delivering customized workshops that include User Story, Product Owner, Scrum Master, Release Planning and Portfolio workshops. As an Agile Consulting Coach, I bring perspectives of both Traditional and Agile methodologies. I work with leadership and teams to guide them through transformation. My practices include training and coaching in varied Agile methods including Scrum and Kanban and Scaling frameworks such as SAFe and LeSS.