Trust is the most precious resource in any organisation. For modern software organisations, which depend heavily on its employees for its success, trust becomes of paramount importance.
When trust is a topic, it’s clear that there is a deficit of it. It is a dangerous state to be in and it mainly affects the company in two ways. Increased cost of operations (by many fold) and shrinking space for creativity/innovation. One hurts the business in the short-to-medium term and the other hurts in the long term.
When the atmosphere in an organisation is one of distrust, people lose patience and empathy for others, and everything they dislike will be seen as a problem/failure.
If a feature is delayed it’s due to an incompetent engineer; if sales targets are not met it’s due to a poor tech setup; if the office looks empty it’s because engineers don’t take their work seriously; if the vision or strategy is not clear it’s due to poor management; if the product roadmap lacks ‘interesting’ features it’s due to incompetent POs and so on. This is Stage One.
Although exaggerated, if you look closely there is some truth (among all the excuses) in these statements, but people refuse to accept and change. They are instead busy shifting the blame onto others.
In Stage Two, engineers start adding more buffer to their estimates so they are never late, sales targets will be set so low that it’s hard to miss them, the office will look full but nothing gets done, fancy features are added to please people rather than users, workshops will be held to come up with catchy vision statements, etc, etc.
People stop taking risks and they become complacent. They add additional layers of insurance to their work to feel secure. All these activities take the time, money and energy of the team, which should otherwise be focused in achieving business goals.
In Stage Three, the most dangerous phase of all, distrust becomes part of the culture.
Every new initiative, new decision, new idea, new process will be met with pessimism. As a result of it people disengage. It’s the worst thing that can happen to a company.
How do you get out of this?
The first step is to acknowledge it. There is no easy way out, everyone in the organisation needs to put in extra effort to overcome this.
Unless we change it, it’ll just be what it is.
Trust is a by-product of what you say and what you do. So: work on improving in both these areas.
Over-communicate: best way to address trust issues is to talk more, find ways to inform people about what is being worked on and what is not. If something troubles you, go talk to the concerned people and find out more. If there is something you disagree with, express your views constructively, rationally and respectfully.
Expectations: be rational in what you expect and look back at achievements realistically. Take those rose-tinted glasses away.
Show empathy: if you don’t understand something, try to learn more about it, don’t just jump to convenient conclusions. Incorporate people from other departments to share and gain knowledge.
Good communication: with right expectation and empathy sets a foundation for people to build trust with each other. It is only the beginning of what should be a continuous process of improvement.
Trust is neither given nor taken, it’s built and maintained. One has to be aware of this at all time. It can never be taken for granted.
Teams can win if they work together, but they are sure to lose if they don’t.