Saturday, 22 November 2014

The Trust Curve as a tool to start relations

I have recently taken up an engagement that involves a project rescue intervention as the overall integration program manager responsible to bring in various technical teams and components represented from different business units (each with their own priorities & project deliverables), that when integrated together delivers greater business value as a whole (than each component servicing its own business process in isolation) - an awesome yet complicated system. The stakeholders have set high expectations, hoping to bring in some structure and alignment to the teams by setting up a program stream that would centrally command and control the deliveries - taking on the classic Steerco approach.

So I needed to setup a formal kick-off workshop, get everyone in a room together to flesh out as much as possible (review where each independent project stream is, what's to do, architecture, design, integration backlogs, etc.) thus culminating in a unified program plan. I had one problem though: I sensed a lot of tension and nervousness between the teams, there was quite a bit of history around expectations not being met, poor communications, etc. I just did not get the feeling that everyone trusted each other, there was a lot of suspicion going on. And now with this management intervention of having a lead integration program manager, people had their reservations. For me as this integration program manager, I needed to start the stream off on a good note, establishing a level of trust (that was apparently nonexistent), and get the core team leads gelling together to form the core delivery team. I anticipated a lot of tension that could surface in the main kickoff workshop, so I decided to run a retrospective prior to the official workshop, as a way to pre-empt the emotional discussions that, if left unchecked, would eventually derail the formal planning workshop.

In doing so, I started to look at retrospective tools that could help me approach the subject looking up (Getting Value Out of Agile Retrospectives - A Toolbox of Retrospective Exercises by Linders/Goncalves and Agile Retrospectives by Derby/Larsen). I also sought advice & counsel from a good friend, colleague and agile-coach-cum-mentor of mine: Farid@Crossbolt - explained my challenges, and in ten minutes, he provided excellent suggestions around team building activities as the first prize, second prize is address the elephant-in-the-room directly through a retro, where we could talk around a simple curve, call it the "Trust Curve". I settled on the latter suggestion (my original approach) of doing the retro since we just couldn't afford any time/money for the team building activity.

I have since then shown the Trust Curve to a few people, and have received some really good feedback, and hence this blog post. I want to share this simple, yet powerful picture that can be used as a starting point in setting the stage in building new relations, in an open & mature manner:
Trust Curve
The above picture tries to show the different positions of trust, that you could use to frame the conversation. Engineers understand pictures, especially a curve - that at first glance, appears so simple, yet profoundly powerful if you allow yourself to be open to critical reflection. The picture tries to show a journey of how trust will develop through a course of a relationship.