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Trust: The Foundation for Team Success

A few years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles made big waves in the offseason, signing several high-profile free agents. Hopes were high in Philly. Vince Young, one of the signees, dubbed the Eagles “The Dream Team.” Alas, results did not match the hype: The Eagles finished 8-8, missing the playoffs by a game.

Fast forward to this past season. Again, the Eagles made a few significant free agent signings. Again, expectations were lofty. But this time, the Eagles delivered on those hopes, winning Super Bowl LII with game MVP Nick Foles, a backup when the season began, as their quarterback.

On paper, both teams were similarly assembled. So why the failure of the first and the success of the second? Both had talent. Both were motivated to win. But while the former was thrown together, the latter was built. Head Coach Doug Pederson, himself a former NFL QB and a practitioner of the modern wisdom of emotional intelligence, built what his predecessors could not: TRUST. Pederson understood that his team would go nowhere until everyone in that locker room knew they could trust each other, and him. By taking actions like meeting weekly with a core council of players to address issues in the locker room, and, unlike many NFL coaches, keeping negative feedback a private, one-on-one experience instead of a public callout, Pederson built a culture of trust while maintaining a high level of player accountability.

On any team, people need to know they can trust each other. As critical and challenging as it is for an NFL team, it can be equally challenging and just as critical on technical teams. To people who value and earn a living by technical knowledge, that knowledge is a hard-won prize: openly treasured and tenaciously protected. When pulling technical workers together to work as a team, it’s important to spend the time up front building trust so that everyone knows their knowledge and opinions are going to be heard and valued.

Quality can hit a whole new level when the members of a team really trust each other. Collaboration flourishes when everyone knows it’s okay to not have all the answers. Effective standards can be set. Code reviews become open learning opportunities instead of rubber stamps to avoid tension. The wall that sometimes exists between testers and developers can be broken down. Instead of the all-too-often “I fixed it” “It’s still broken” loop, they can work together to ensure the product is the best it can be.

For technical people, often introverted by nature, it can be very hard to trust anyone other than the person in the mirror. It’s crucial for the team leader, be it a manager, scrum master, or tech lead, to invest the time and effort up front with the team to build trust. Get the team to get to know each other as people. Talk about your backgrounds, why you got into development, places you worked before (good or bad) and challenges you faced there. Whatever method you use, the key is to foster awareness of where each person is coming from. Insight into the thoughts and events that have shaped individuals goes a long way to break down barriers to trust between team members.

With trust as a foundation, every team has a chance to achieve great results. Maybe even win the Super Bowl.

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