Jim Bennett | May 13, 2014

I wrote this post on Medium a while ago, so as part of my attempts to bring together all my work into as smaller number of places as possible, here it is.

Shouldn’t our default position be to trust first?

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine recently about his current work situation. His team leader has a default state of not trusting in the knowledge and abilities of the team. Systems are locked down so only the team leader can access them, decisions are made by said leader and bypass the knowledge, skills and abilities of the team. This was raised up the chain by one of his co workers only to be told to spend time earning that trust (despite already being there for a while). This has made for an unhappy team with one already leaving and a few more making plans in that direction.”

This is a very different model to how I like to run teams. I want to have a team working with me where I can trust in the skills of every member — instead of locking them out I open everything up to them. If they lack the right skills, instead of blocking them from doing a task I’d rather work with them to help them learn how to do it. Put them in a place where they can learn through self discovery, learn through failure with a guiding hand to help them succeed next time. I find this makes for a very cohesive team, everyone feels valued, they matter to the success of the team and they feel their skills growing. To quote Peopleware by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister “Once you have decided to go with a certain group, your best tactic is to trust them … People who feel untrusted have little inclination to bond together into a cooperative team”

I feel very comfortable with my model. I always try my hardest to ensure that I interview thoroughly so that I know what my new hires can and can’t do. I also spend time with the team on a one to one basis to constantly get and give feedback on how they are doing as a team member and I am doing as their team lead. This constant cycle of information allows me to know when to sit back and leave them to it, or sit with them and help guide. And if I find someone on the team who cannot be trusted despite all efforts? Sorry — they’re out. Harsh, but fairer to the team as a whole. One bad apple should not ruin the success of the rest of the team.

To me, trust in the workplace is earned in the interview and cemented by doing good work, not something that still has to be earned by someone who has already been through extensive interviews, worked for the company for a number of months and is delivering on target. This is the same as how we live our lives. We sit on a chair because we trust it won’t break on us (unless our initial assessment of the chair shows it’s already broken), we eat food and trust it won’t kill us (unless it already smells bad), we fall in love trusting that our partners will be faithful, only removing that trust if they show otherwise.

Trust is good. My advice to my friend — go somewhere where you are trusted.