Opening Remarks: This article is the synthesis of our experience as Agile coaches and data gathered from Agile practitioners in our network. We do not have the presumption to cover every aspect of Agile complexity. We are gladfully welcoming feedback to start a conversation on any aspects that might spark your interest. 

Pitfall #1: Losing faith in the team 


Trust is often a subjective concept; everyone has his or her own definition. One of them caught our attention: “Trust means that one party believes in, and is willing to depend on, another party” (McKnight et al. - 1998). 

Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 50% higher productivity and 76% more engagement (1)

In Agile ways of working, trust is at the core. There are some key interactions where lack of trust can endanger seriously the outcome. Below are some examples of interactions leading to broken trust

  • The development team believes the requested changes to the backlog are linked to an unclear vision of the product from the business team. What will happen? They start to discredit the business team but also the product itself and it leads to split the teams up 

  • The business stakeholders do not trust the estimates given by the development team. Therefore, the team is put under unnecessary pressure, causing further friction  

  • The Scrum Master does not trust the development team to deliver as expected, thus micro-managing the team by asking them progress reports or telling them how they should build the product. 

The Scrum Guide (2), one of many interpretations of the Agile manifesto, lists five values that all Scrum teams share: commitment, courage, focus, openness, and respect. All together, these values create trust in the end. 


What it means 


Team members trust each other to reach the target they say they are going to reach. Agile teams only agree to take on tasks they believe they can complete, so they are careful not to overcommit. 


Team members must feel safe enough to say no, to ask for help, and to try new things 


Whatever team members start they finish, so they are relentless about limiting the amount of work in process 


Team members consistently seek out new ideas and opportunities to learn. They are also honest when they need help 


Team members know that their strength lies in how well they collaborate, and that everyone has a distinct contribution to the success of the project 


As a leader or as a team member, there are many ways to encourage trust in the field. Here are 5 of them we believe everyone can go with, with examples of practical improvement actions

  1. Use honest and transparent communication especially when providing feedback, instead of telling what others want to hear.  
    Example: Organize recurring 1-on-1 feedback sessions between team members 

  2. Ensure and protect everyone’s speaking time, instead of letting only those who speak loudest express themselves.
    Example: Start daily meetings with different people speaking first and taking the lead 

  3. Be confident with team estimates, instead of challenging them during planning sessions.
    Example: Try for one sprint to let the development team alone select work than can be done and discuss impact during retrospective 

  4. Raise fact-based issues during retrospectives and then allow the team to identify the best ways to tackle it themselves.
    Example: Transform 1 out of 2 retrospectives into a problem-solving session on a selected topic, with key facts to introduce it 

  5. Always strive for code quality, instead of hiding features that do not work.
    Example: Develop pair programming between developers to get instant feedback on code quality 

In the field, using this checklist as team norms has dramatically improved trust within supported teams. Having frequent team health checks is recommended to make sure trust remains intact, for instance once per iteration at the beginning of a retrospective.   

(1) Paul J. Zak, The neuroscience of trust, Harvard Business Review - January-February 2017 Issue


This article is part of a series of articles on Agile pitfalls and tips to avoid them. You will find the complete series here addressing People, Processes and Technology. Interested to know more on how to deal with people in an Agile context ? You can also check our article on confusing agility and disorganization  and why you should not hide yourself in the basement

Are you interested to work on Agile projects and support our clients in their digital transformation? We are hiring: check our job offer!

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