How to Communicate to Build Trust on a Scrum Team
Early in my career my team was reorganized, and our highly technical manager was replaced by someone from the business side. From time to time the new manager would meet with each engineer to discuss what they were working on.
At first I felt a small amount of resentment—after all, how would a nontechnical person understand how my complicated imaging software worked? But I soon realized my role as a technical contributor was to deliver value to the business, and if I was unable to explain my work to someone with a deep understanding of the business, it was my problem.
As I learned about agile software development, I began to realize that this dynamic is also relevant to how teams make decisions and negotiate priorities.
Good communication about technical issues doesn’t just affect the interactions between business and technical teams. In an NPR interview, actor Alan Alda makes the case for why doctors, scientists, engineers, and other professionals need to learn to present information in a manner others can understand.
Using jargon and other language that is opaque breaks down trust, which hurts people on both sides of the conversation. Not everyone can become an expert on the details of every field, so we need to trust experts, and experts need to help us feel comfortable with that trust.
This is relevant to Scrum teams because trust among the ScrumMaster, product owner, engineers, and people outside the team (such as those in operations) is essential to making the process work. Transparency, inspection, and adaptation are the three pillars of Scrum, and it’s hard to commit to these actions if everyone doesn’t have openness and respect for each other.
Take the relationship between a Scrum team and its product owner. Scrum teams are self-organizing and cross-functional, which requires trust from the product owner, and the product owner is responsible for managing the product backlog and the team’s work, which requires trust from the team members. Because there is an interplay between business goals and technical goals, each group needs to work together and trust each other. Mutual respect is key.
Agile coach and ScrumMaster Ellen Gottesdiener describes five ways a product owner can build trust within a team. These include honest and frequent discussions with the team, clearly defining the vision for the product, and being transparent when making decisions.
The relationship between communication and trust comes up often when we discuss agile because it is so important to building successful teams. Communicating clearly is an essential part of creating trust among all the roles on a team.