“Don’t you trust us?”

Once upon a time I was responsible for a number of teams on a particular project. We were all office-based, and one team had a habit of not visualising its work during each day’s stand-up. They would discuss yesterday’s work, their problem, and what they planned to do for that day, but there were no cards or sticky notes on the wall, and no other visual progress tracking—it was just a face to face discussion. When I asked the team to show their work on a wall, they look puzzled, and one of them asked “Don’t you trust us?”

Mostly I like difficult questions like this. They force me to ask myself what I really want, and therefore to explain it better. The question threw me for a moment, because I think I expected them to say “Oh, that’s a good idea,” and instead I got a challenge.

So I explained that it wasn’t about trust, it was about me being able to speak for the team. There were many stakeholders, and often they came to me with questions and progress, and this way I could refer to a visual aid, rather than interrupting the team. Also—importantly—I couldn’t keep every team’s progress in my head. This explanation seemed acceptable and they made some space on their whiteboard for their tracking.

There was another reason, too, which I did not add. Although I trusted them to work diligently, I didn’t trust their brains to always be performing at their best—no-one’s brain does does. It’s easy to forget things, or to forget priorities, or be derailed by strong stakeholders. Writing things down (such as in reports, or on a whiteboard) helps off-load things from our brains.

Other things might be mistakenly interpreted and showing a lack of trust, too. For example, insisting on a regular demo of working software might be seen that way (“Don’t you trust what was in our written report?”) but it’s really about providing focus and motivation.

Trust has many dimensions. It’s possible to trust people’s motivation and still acknowledge that as human beings we are fallible and benefit from help.

Photo by Cheddarcheez