Thursday, December 6, 2012

Trust and vulnerability

The snake, Kaa, in The Jungle Book, sings a song to Mowgli: “Trust in me, just in me, Shut your eyes and trust in me, You can sleep safe and sound, Knowing I am around.” Now, we all know that Kaa really isn’t to be trusted. We know it usually takes more than blindly accepting someone else’s statement that they’re trust-worthy. More often than not, if someone says they’re trust-worthy, we double-check their references.

So how do we build trust within a team?

Lyssa Adkins is promoting a hashtag on Twitter - #vulnerabilitytrust - this is my motivator for this column. She wants to see how and when agile teams build trust, and acknowledges that much of it has to do with how and when we show vulnerability.

I must admit, I’ve been feeling vulnerable writing this article (those of you who write regularly may understand). This piece just has not flowed. My colleagues who usually just provide a few minor modifications helped me see what was wrong. I didn’t put myself into the writing. I was going through the motions, noting what one expert says on how to build trust, and listing a few of the results from the Twitter hashtag.  But I didn’t talk about me. I didn’t show my vulnerability. So I’m trying again.

How do we build trust within a team?

My answer? I start with trust.

When I work with you, I start out by trusting you. You don’t have to earn my trust at the start. I will share with you what I know and what I don’t know. I will let you know what I’ve seen that’s worked and what hasn’t worked. I will even talk about how I haven’t been able to figure something out, and perhaps you’ll be able to solve it.

And I will expect you to do the same.

I expect that trust to be reciprocated. I expect honesty and dependability. A little humor never hurts either.

Now, you may lose my trust, depending how you respond to my vulnerability. Because, through this open communication, I have shown you where my faults lie. You may realize that I’m not as strong a developer as you, or that I have some really odd personality quirks.  If trust is lost, we’ll have to figure out how to rebuild the relationship, and how to re-establish that trust, perhaps starting with an element of the trust that didn’t get lost.

Patrick Lencioni notes that trust takes courage. I agree. 

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