Dysfunction: Absence of Trust

“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

Trust is a funny thing.

The absence of trust described in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is essentially the opposite of what Alistair Cockburn refers to as ‘Personal Safety’. Trust is a ‘prediction of reliance’ that your peers intentions are good and any vulnerabilities will not be used against you.

An ‘absence of trust’ can appear to take other forms in software development, for example, ‘we don’t trust those incompetent mother #$%@&ers in product management/engineering/quality assurance’, but I’m going stick with the model in the book for now. (Maybe you’ll get two bonus dysfunctions: ‘Absence of Faith’ and ‘Absence of Competence’, but I digress.)

The book contends that trust is the foundation of teamwork and if a team doesn’t trust each other enough to personally expose weakness or raise concerns without fear of reprisal, then they are condemned to suffer from all the dysfunctions.

How many times have you seen a programmer spend hours, maybe even days, banging away at some problem that the person sitting ten feet away knows cold?

How many time have you endured the strategic conversation about what can and can’t be shared with another team?

How many times have you bit your tongue watching what comes into the version control repository?

Why does this happen? The smug pedantic lesson from someone who learned from banging his own head. The firestorm that happened when information was divulged. The vacant stares and shrugs because the code ‘works’. The seeds of mistrust are planted as a defense mechanism to some unpleasant experience.

The basis of trust is truth. If everyone can focus on the truth, then trust becomes a non issue.

The truth is some people know things you don’t. The truth is you know some things too. The truth is the best thing for the team is to share your knowledge. Ironically, the best thing for the team is to also share your ignorance. The truth is you should try not to be smug when enlightening your team. The truth is you should probably not take things personally when someone is trying to teach you something.

Without the truth, how can you make decisions? Sometimes the truth sucks, would you rather have it dressed up in buzz wordy power points? Is that going to fix anything?

Without trust, a team will waste an incredible amount of time and energy managing their interactions. Without trust, a team will be reluctant to offer or ask for assistance. Without trust, a team will have low morale and unwanted turnover.

What about your team?

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5 responses to “Dysfunction: Absence of Trust

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