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Trust within the Scrum ecosystem

September 27, 2023

Original French version here.

In French, Confidence and Trust are both translated as "Confiance". I apologize if I may have missed some subtleties between the two English words.


Organizations and their teams operate in a VUCA world, also known as « real life ».

Faced with their challenges, the teams must always be more creative and innovative, both in identifying and clarifying the problems to be addressed as a priority and in the processes to be used to build the appropriate solutions.

This necessary creativity will flourish on the debates of ideas, the speeches and especially the listening of all the intelligences focused on the current urgency.

stake of rocks

I am going to explore some thinkings around this collective intelligence, the necessary trust between individuals and some obstacles.

I don't pretend to know what your 3; 5 or 7 key pain points are in effectively adopting a more agile culture or framework like Scrum, let alone giving you a ready-to-execute plan!

Nevertheless, I see a recurring difficulty around trust as a key ingredient in interactions. I let you judge its significance and how to address it in your unique context.

Self-Management and autonomy

Self-management is a natural property of any ecosystem (Cf. shoal of fish, swarm of bees; flight of starlings; children in a schoolyard…) and it is, with empiricism (knowledge comes from experience), one of the strands of Scrum's DNA. But this self-management can also easily be undermined.

Self-management in the Scrum framework means distributed leadership among all members of the Scrum Team. The Product Owner is naturally the leader of the vision, strategy and roadmap of the product, the Scrum Master on the framework, the interactions and the processes, and the Developers on the decisions around the construction of the solution. Alone, the members of this Scrum Team are able to fulfill their mission with maximum autonomy (only very rarely being forced to seek external help to unblock situations) and maximum efficiency (creating Value) and efficiency (minimizing all types of waste).

Each Scrum Team is both unique in its identity and its culture, and is both a representation of the ecosystem in which it is part. Each event reproduces the same fractal structure and contains at its heart the entire culture of the Scrum Team and its ecosystem.

For example, interactions between Developers during Daily Scrum will likely be a projection of interactions that may exist outside of the Scrum Team between different entities in the organization. If clans exist between Developers (between UX Designers; Business Analysts; software developpers, etc.), it's a safe bet that the organization reproduces these same types of clan with the same quality of interactions at a more macroscopic scale.


This is explained by the principle of homeostasis, a phenomenon ensuring the stability of a system and the preservation of its current state, which justifies that the culture of the Scrum Team cannot be fundamentally at odds with the culture of its ecosystem, on pain of violent rejection.

Trust as a key ingredient

To best fulfill their mission, team members must learn to trust each other.

Patrick Lencioni also posits trust as the basis for the proper functioning of a team.

This is about the ability of people to expose themselves in the most sincere way, without being afraid to reveal their vulnerabilities, which is always easier said than done, often for fear of criticism, judgment, fears of consequences and of turning against oneself. The absence of such trust between team members destroys any hope of sincere debate of ideas.

Amy Edmondson proposes here the concept of “Psychological Safety” to describe a healthy environment, in which individuals are not afraid to ask questions, to share their ideas and their doubts.

There is a lot of work here on the part of formal and informal leaders to promote free expression of speech and neutralize as much as possible the issuance of judgments and criticisms from individuals, under penalty of destroying any initiative for progress and emergence of innovative ideas.

Amy Edmondson illustrates in her books and TEDX ( and how a climate poor in psychological safety encourages a professional environment to keep silent or hide the problems and therefore paradoxically prevents progress, in any type of context (industrial, tertiary or even hospital) with the catastrophic consequences which the press has already seized upon in the past .


In addition, we are also all endowed with a very variable degree of self-confidence, which can be developed by personal work in different areas.

For some French references, the philosopher and teacher Charles Pépin ( thus explores self-confidence as being the fruit of the confidence that one grants to other teammates, to our mentors and our own skills and ability to improvise.

For his part, the therapist Frédéric Fanget ( helps us to get moving to limit this lack of confidence. which paralyzes us and keeps us in a vicious circle preventing the development of our potential.

I let you find similar references in your favorite language.

All these keys around trust may seem to be enough.

However, it is clear that in business, trust between members of the same team and a fortiori trust between a team and its ecosystem are often limited.

Even worse, employees can claim to feel confident while remaining in very passive postures vis-à-vis principals (clients or managers) or experts (Technical Leader or Lead Programmer), like a young child feeling totally confident under the protection of his caring parents.


Contributions of Transactional Analysis

We have seen that trust is necessary but not sufficient on its own to have a successful self-managed team.

Transactional Analysis is a theory of communication created in 1958 by Eric Berne, proposing a model of relational exchanges called Transactions, aimed at improving understanding of these Transactions.

The three "Ego" states from Transactional Analysis (Parent-Adult-Child) among which we navigate represent a system of thoughts and behaviors based respectively for the Parent on a reproduction of significant figures (the rules we must respect); for the Adult on the here and now (our possibilities in the current context); for the Child on a return to childhood mechanisms (spontaneity to meet our immediate needs).

Transactional Analysis and its three "Ego" states bring here the interesting concept of symbiotic chains, explaining how interactions between Scrum Team members will be imbued with the mechanisms of interactions between the Scrum Team and its ecosystem.



For example, if the relationship between the ecosystem and the Scrum Team can in some cases resemble a "Parent Child" relationship where the organization imposes its choices without any possible discussion in a top-down approach, then it is highly likely to see the same top-down and authoritarian "Parent Child" relationships reproduced within the Scrum Team, typically between the Product Owner and the Developers, or even between a "Senior" Developer and another "Junior" Developer.

A trap for the Scrum Master here would be to dive into Karpman's drama triangle to Rescue (+/-) the Child Victims (-/+) of a Parent qualified as a Persecutor (+/-).


Progress here will involve evolving these transactions to navigate the four life positions (Dependence -/+; Counter-dependence -/-; Independence +/-; Inter-dependence +/+) proposed by Transactional Analysis, and aiming to install essentially AdultAdult-type inter-dependent interactions. If you treat people like children, don't be surprised if they behave like children!

It's not easy, but it's feasible for the Scrum Master to start by shifting the Developers' behaviors towards more AdultAdult type interactions, always taking care to avoid the Karpman triangle, i.e. avoiding even involuntarily donning one of the three costumes of the drama.

The next step is for the Product Owner and Developers to move from Customer/Supplier interactions to true collaboration.

The next stage for the Scrum Master, which is even more delicate, will be to develop interactions between stakeholders and the Scrum Team as a whole.

Gradually, better interactions will be established, contributing to more effective use of the Scrum framework throughout the ecosystem.

But why is it so difficult?

Our way of interacting is the result of a whole culture and upbringing that doesn't encourage individuals to take responsibility for themselves as much as they are capable of. We often expect someone else to make decisions for us. That's what we expect from parents, teachers, chiefs, political governments and their presidents. It's our conditioned way of operating, quite effective and relevant when we're a fragile and vulnerable young child, but limiting in our adult lives, unless we deliberately want to maintain a system of oligarchy.

What can we do ?

As a leader (Scrum Master or other Leaders), it makes sense to work on processes and the environment, focusing on what is possible to move, to make behaviors evolve, rather than exhausting yourself by already wanting to be where you'd like to be.

In fact, the deliberate evolution of processes will invariably lead to the gradual adaptation of behaviours themselves. The idea is explained here by Dave Snowden, creator of the Cynefin framework.

This evolution of processes can be achieved by making transparent the sets of manipulations (including Karpman triangles & symbiotic chains); the types of interactions & life positions experienced.

The Scrum Master or leader can intervene with a balanced mix of different postures, such as training, facilitation, coaching, reformulation, reminding people of the framework and its values...


Obviously, these interventions will be an opportunity for the Scrum Master or Leader to embody the 5 Scrum Values, by having courageous face-to-face or collective discussions.

And you, what courageous Adult-to-Adult conversation are you going to have today?

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