Why is trust so valuable, especially for agile companies? How do you promote trust in practice? Agile Coach Christof Braun highlights the essential benefits of trust using the Wheel of Trust model, gives best practice examples from AOE's agile corporate culture and how to regain lost trust.
What does trust actually mean? In his presentation, Christof said: “Trust is when you assume vulnerability with an optimistic expectation of someone else.”
Trust should not be taken for granted and has to do with one’s image of humanity. In an agile environment, we assume a positive image of people with intrinsically motivated employees who want to make an active contribution to the company’s development. In agile organizations, teams work self-organized and make decisions independently. Higher management levels are responsible for the product vision, but the individual measures to achieve the product vision are decided by the teams. Accordingly, trust in the team members and their decisions is a basic prerequisite. This also applies to the trust that employees have in each other and in managers.
However, trust in employees is not only a basic prerequisite for a trusting working relationship in the company. Trust makes a considerable contribution to active, flexible and productive cooperation. In concrete terms, trust enables essential corporate functions:
Trust is therefore in many respects an important factor for collaborative work in companies. To achieve this, the right basic conditions must be created to enable trustful cooperation in teams. Some of the most important prerequisites are described in the “Wheel of Trust”: Clarity, connection, competence, compassion, consistency and confirmation.
Clarity is characterized by transparency and sincerity. A high level of communication, honest dealings with each other and fact-based decisions are important. Say what you mean – mean what you say! Explain your intention openly! Promote clarity through minimal access restrictions for employees all the way to public meetings (e.g. by sharing minutes or video recordings, Wiki pages, financial data, etc.).
Practical examples: At AOE we have a Weekly every Monday, where we briefly present current topics, including key figures and the direction the management team would like to take in continuing to develop the company. A lot of information is available in our Wiki pages.
Know your colleagues and emphasize similarities and common interests. Employees are social beings with respective strengths and weaknesses – if these are known, one can deal much better with the respective situation. Company events and team events strengthen the connections within the team, which creates trust. Common goals and values, pair working or a Community of Interest support confidence-building measures.
Practical examples at AOE: We organize several elaborate team events for the entire AOE team, including a company paid ski vacation for all employees – an expensive but rewarding investment, even though we have grown from 60 to 300 employees in the last five years. In addition, each Scrum team has a budget for its own team events to strengthen team unity. For the exchange on certain topics, our employees can form User Groups and Communities of Interest on their own responsibility. For example, we regularly host various external User Groups on tech and agile topics.
Give employees the space and opportunities to use their skills for the betterment of the team and the company. Contributing actively to the company’s success connects and motivates. Learning is an important factor in personality development as well as in product and company development. Accordingly, a learning culture should be established and promoted. For example, continuous improvement processes can be established through retrospectives and feedback. Internal knowledge transfer and team communication can be promoted through product demonstrations or internal trade fairs. Slacktime enables employees to develop their own skills independently.
At AOE, retrospectives are a regular part of our agile corporate culture, helping teams to develop and orient themselves. Some customers have several Scrum teams, which bring each other up to speed in internal review fairs, where the individual teams present what they have developed as they would at an external trade show. We promote individual competence development with a personal training budget of 2,000 euros per employee and year, which each employee can use to attend conferences and the like.
Approach your employees and colleagues with empathy and goodwill. Listen and put their interests before your own. Show emotions, ask for help and apologize if necessary. More importantly, praise! Kudos and positive feedback work more than monetary incentives! Pay attention to nonviolent communication.
Examples at AOE: We have a Kudos Wall, where you can write a simple thank-you note to your colleagues on. Doesn’t cost anything, but brings sunshine into the day. In our chat tool Mattermost we have set up a Whisperchannel where AOE employees can also give anonymous feedback. Not every comment in this channel is accepted, but at least it is discussed; things can be clarified and explained. Our employees can also play an active role in shaping the company. Once or twice a year we have an Open Friday where employees can submit, discuss and implement suggestions for improvements to the company in a Barcamp format.
Be consistent in your behavior. Integrity and predictability are important for trustful collaboration. Practice what you preach. Formulate commitments only if you can meet them. Communicate clear goals and values and live them. Maintain communication and openly admit mistakes.
Practical examples at AOE: We attach great importance to our agile corporate culture and actively cultivate it through internal team communication, Communities of Interest and the like. For this purpose we have a “Culture Officer”; our employee Alex was explicitly hired for the maintenance and further development of our corporate culture and the creation of an AOE Culture Book. At one of our Christmas parties we visualized our corporate culture as a team event in a collectively created painting, which now hangs in our Eatery and vividly displays our corporate culture.
Do good unto others without expecting anything in return – simply because you can. Someday, someone will do something good for you. Celebrate shared successes. Praise and recommend your colleagues. Treat others the way you want to be treated and give your colleagues and co-workers a vote of confidence. He who gives, shall also receive.
Examples at AOE: We offer our employees a variety of benefits so that they feel comfortable right from the start. AOE CEO Kian Gould once said that every employee is given a bucket of trust when hired – this trust is highly valued by our employees and repaid through good, active teamwork. But we also regularly try to appreciate the many little things – even if it is only a commendatory mention in the Weekly.
Even with the most open and transparent company communications, there can be a loss of trust, through whichever incident. Unfortunately, trust is lost much more quickly than it can be built up. So, what to do when a loss of trust has occurred?
The most important tool: communication! Talk openly about why and how you acted, which mistakes were made and pay attention to nonviolent communication. Was action taken consciously or unconsciously? In unconscious action, what can one learn from the incidents? With conscious action, what consequences must be drawn from it. Consequences must be drawn above all for those responsible for the breach of trust; no general consequences should be drawn for uninvolved parties.
Raising awareness and communicating the awareness of breaches of trust is an important step, which must also be communicated to the employees. Admitting and apologizing for mistakes is not easy, as this is often associated with weakness and misconduct – but it is much more an example of character and integrity to admit one’s own mistakes and draw the appropriate lessons and consequences from them. Mistakes happen to everyone anyway, especially in unknown terrain such as the further development of products and companies, it is therefore more about how we deal with those mistakes.
Using the “Wheel of Trust” Model, you can find out where the problems occurred. Once the problem has been identified, it is much easier to consciously deal with the problem and solve it. Nonetheless, after breaches of trust, patience is required until trust is restored.
How can trust be incorporated into the corporate strategy? We at AOE regularly work on our agile corporate culture and on the trusting cooperation in our Scrum teams as well as a trustful collaboartion with our customers. A few tips:
Conclusion: Trust is a lengthy and lasting process and closely linked to the existing corporate culture. However, it is worthwhile for all parties to actively shape the company, for employees and managers, the company itself, as well as for customers and partners. Need an example? Then take a look at what our long-standing customer congstar thinks about our partnership.