5 Whys is a blog about technical leadership in the software world.

Creating Team Trust

Editor’s note: The following post was written by Johanna Rothman.

Johanna helps managers and leaders solve problems and seize opportunities. She consults, speaks, and writes on managing high-technology product development.  She enables managers, teams, and organizations to become more effective by applying her pragmatic approaches to the issues of project management, risk management, and people management.

She was the Agile 2009 Conference Chair, and has been helping teams, managers and organizations move to agile approaches for their projects and project portfolios.
Johanna publishes The Pragmatic Manager, a monthly email newsletter and podcast, and writes two blogs: Managing Product Development and Hiring Technical People. She is the author of several books:

Johanna is also a host and session leader at the Amplifying Your Effectiveness Conference. Find more of Johanna's articles and her blogs at www.jrothman.com.


Is there such a thing as team trust? If so, why do you need it?

When team members have interdependent commitments, you want them to trust each other. Daughter #2, who's a senior in high school has been working on several "teams" with other seniors this year, doesn't trust her team.

"I know that I'll have to take up the slack when they don't do what they said they would do,"  has been her slogan all year.  If that's your approach, you don't have team trust.

In Solomon's Building Trust in Business, Politics, Relationships, and Life, he says that there are prerequisites to trust:

  • Deliver what you promise to deliver
  • Be consistent in your actions and reactions
  • Make integrity a cornerstone of your work
  • Be willing to discuss, influence, and negotiate.
  • Trust in yourself and your colleagues

Whether or not you have a real team, how do you create a trusting relationship with each person?  First, start with yourself.

Do you always deliver what you promise to deliver?

If you can't, why not? I've met many team leads who thought they could do the same amount of work as a team lead that they could do as an individual contributor without any overall commitment to the team.


Are you consistent in your actions and reactions?

Yes, you can become angry. No, you can't beat the table, say nasty thing to people or have other out-of-band reactions and still have trust.


Do you ever feel as if you have to swallow your professional integrity?

You might need to reframe what you think integrity is. Early in my career, I cared very much about the quality of the released product. I still care, and I realize that sometimes there are business decisions that trump actual quality. I now care very much about providing information about technical debt to the people who make the final decision.


Are you willing to discuss issues?

New team leads are particularly prone to "I would have done it this way, why didn't you?" syndrome. That's fine to say that to yourself. And, you need to discuss, influence, negotiate, and not tell people what to do.


Now, you can trust in yourself.

And, you can extend trust to your colleagues.
Trust is something people earn, by showing they are trustworthy. Prove yourself, to yourself, your team, your management. Then you can start building a trusting relationship with others.

Confessions of a First Time Manager

How to plan and influence change at your company