Building trust

To my surprise, my writings on Trust were quite a hit. It resonates with people. Without trust it’s impossible to collaborate within a team and be an effective manager. In that post I shared a couple of situations that bitten me. And unfortunately, there’s no book one can read that will teach these things. One has to screw up many times and learn from these experiences. Hopefully next time they will do better. I say hopefully, because my learnings from both 2017 are still not fully embodied. One needs to fail multiple times at the same thing, until they understand the nuances. Building trust is difficult, and it works differently from person to person. Some people will take a long time until they open up to you. While with others it might take a single 1:1. Human interactions are like a box of chocolates. And this is why I prefer management over coding. The highs are higher, but so are the lows.

One of my biggest challenges creating that trust was at Prolific in 2021. In previous roles I could use my experience in mobile as a crutch. I was managing mobile engineers and I was one. There’s a commonality. There’s empathy. I know what you are going through, because I have done that. When that common ground is dissolved, one has to put in a lot more effort. There was also the challenge around cultural fit - which led to a short tenure. I valued different things compared to most people I was managing. This is not to say my views are better or worse, they are just different. Both circumstances made my job hard. Notwithstanding, I left with good reviews from 92% of the engineers I was managing. So what did I do? I managed with transparency, challenging directly and being honest when I screwed up. When things were not working well, I was quite honest with my reports. I explained why we were doing things in a particular way, from where the pressure was coming from and what were the expectations. I treated people like adults, not hiding details. It was also the first time where I shifted from a mentor to a coach. I couldn’t mentor anyone: I didn’t know their stack. I didn’t have the necessary knowledge to up skill them on the tech they were using. But I was quite comfortable in creating the conditions for them to figure things out by themselves. From a core skills perspective, I have helped a few people with communication. Specifically around visibility of their work. Instead of having people pulling information from them, they would instead push that to anyone interested. Beyond that, I was quite vulnerable during my 1:1s. I would share my personal concerns, the challenges I was facing and my unsureness if I was being effective or not. Never as a bargaining chip - expecting people in return to tell me their concerns. But as an earnest moment. This created the conditions for people to start sharing their fears, but also their goals. What they want to achieve, what could be in their way and where can I help them. Although short, I am proud of the relationships I have created with my reports and peers.

I have worked with managers that are quite private about their views. About their concerns and ultimately about what they really think about particular topics. The latter is usually either poorly answered, or avoided altogether. How many times, after a company All-Hands meeting, where the CEO said something odd you would ask your manager their thoughts on the topic? People are not stupid. If you noticed something odd, so did they. Pay close attention to their answer and you will know if they trust you.