Circle of Trust

(Circle of Responsibility)

… people are coming together to make something great and want to collaborate in the spirit of Scrum.

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Product organizations are built and sustained on the moment by moment interactions of the people that collaborate to create a product. The qualities of these interactions both reflects and defines the qualities of the organisation.

What is commonly thought to be an organization are the artefacts that have been created by people, such as; legal documents, buildings, logos, policies and procedures. The organization arises as the patterning of the interactions of people and we can understand the nature of the organisation by the nature of these interactions. To use Scrum the nature of interactions need to change. If people mechanically follow the rules of Scrum whilst maintaining their usual interactions they will not get the real value of the framework.

Organisational values are the global norms of the workplace. When these are used as more than corporate wall decorations they are used to limit the behaviours of staff. Values need to be enabling and motivating rather than controlling.  Values need to provide a way to both evaluate and justify actions.

Whenever we are in a position where we depend on others, there is a non-zero probability that the other people won’t complete their part of the work, causing everyone to fail. While the chances of it happening may be extremely small, it still creates a level of uneasiness. If the uneasiness is sufficiently large, even if it is unwarranted, people take defensive measures, such as frequently checking on progress, and giving advice on how to work. People may even try to take over the work.

To build a product that approaches the Greatest Value requires producers to work in a way that Greatest Value can be recognised and supported. Where our interactions focus on our own concerns or control others we limit the opportunity for growth, for others, ourselves and the organisation we are working in.


Demonstrate the values of Commitment, Focus, Openness, Respect and Courage in your day to day behaviours and interactions. Doing this will create a virtuous circle that will allow for the transparency, inspection and adaptation need for Scrum to be used effectively and encourages others to improve their qualities of behavior and interaction as well. This will create Fertile Soil where teams can build their own Scrum implementation in which their performance can grow to every increasing heights.

The team forms a self-reinforcing cycle of trust and responsibility. Each team member trusts that others are competent and will do their best without constant supervision, and they in turn show that the supervision is not needed. This increases the trust level. So next time each team member is more willing to trust the other, and they have more freedom to do their tasks, which increases their motivation, and even increases their ability to do their work.

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For anyone in any kind of a management role, this is particularly important. Avoid micromanagement by allowing teams to complete their work however they see fit, without intervention. This is the basis of Developer Controls Process and Developer-Ordered Work Plan. A Product Owner has a management-style relationship with the team. The ScrumMaster’s relationship with the rest of the team has some management-al overtones.

Noteworthy specific applications:

It is important to understand that Circle of Trust is different from Community of Trust. A Community of Trust is one where you feel safe to speak and act. A Circle of Trust is one of fulfilled responsibilities; the proverbial “I’ve got your back,” among military comrades. A Community of Trust may employ anonymity; a Circle of Trust can never be anonymous. While Community of Trust usually comes first, a Circle of Trust is key to building an enduring Community of Trust.

How do you deal with the force that intermediate status of a project is often needed? One can request intermediate status reports at regular, well-defined intervals; a complementary approach is to break the work down into pieces that can be completed within the reporting intervals. This is closely related to Small Items. Note that regular intervals (such as Daily Scrum) are not set up to be micromanagement, but rather opportunities to share information (and very small victories.)

In some cases, as may become visible in the Daily Scrum, it becomes visible that people miss their commitments. An occasional miss does not break the Circle of Trust, because we recognize we all are human and that the world is complex. And we trust that everyone endeavors to ensure that misses remain rare. Repeated misses jeopardize the Circle of Trust.

Teams that have been working together for a long time (see Stable Teams) should have developed a Circle of Trust sufficiently well that it has become second nature. Teams that are just forming must explicitly establish it. As noted above, it starts with trusting others.

What if you have a proverbial “Wally” from Dilbert, who is indeed a slacker? First, recognize that such people are actually pretty rare, and that very few made it past the employment interview anyway. But in the rare cases where it happens, offer trust until proven otherwise. The highly collaborative nature of Scrum will encourages hard work and full participation.

What does this pattern create? The result is a self-reinforcing circle of commitment and trust: people recognize that others are counting on them to accomplish what they said they would, so they feel a moral obligation to complete their tasks. This increases the likelihood of accomplishment, which in turn strengthens the trust in the team. Other team members are motivated by example. If on the other hand, work occasionally does not get completed, you recognize that the person or persons did their best. It gives you an opportunity to examine what impediments prevented them from accomplishing it. And that in turn provides an opportunity to strengthen the entire organization.

Such an organization, drawn together by common interest or purpose, can be matched up to a product and a market as one key ingredient of Conway’s Law. Additional communities of interest may form their own groups as Birds of a Feather.

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