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How do you earn trust from a new team when you are a contract agile coach?

How do you earn trust from a new team when you are a contract agile coach?

So, the contract element of the Agile coach is what makes this an interesting question.

You’ve been brought in for a specific or multiple reasons and are being introduced to the team as the coach who is there to help them achieve objectives and key results. It may be a long-term client engagement, or you may be there for a short period of time.

When I worked as a contract Agile coach, you would often appear out of the blue and the team would have no idea that you had been contracted to help them at all. Often, they were a bit baffled as to why you turned up and what it is that you were there to do.

It doesn’t actually matter whether you are a contract Agile coach or a new member of the team, you still have a job to do and earning trust is going to be a priority in both styles of engagement.

Remember, you are new to that team.

They may already be a team with a very strong identity, or they may be a collective group of individuals assigned to a specific element of the product development environment. Either way, it is going to be hard for that team to trust you.

  • They don’t know why you are there.
  • They have no idea of what you are capable of and whether you are going to help or hinder.
  • They may resent leadership teams for throwing you into the mix.
  • They may be finding their feet and struggling to deal with a new addition to their team.

There is a myriad of reasons as to why establishing trust will be difficult for you to achieve.

If you have kids and want to go out for the evening, would you just accept a babysitter who rocked up at your door unannounced and unknown or would you want to know a great deal more about them?

Your team are in the same situation. Something they care deeply about, their work and career, is now under potential threat from an unknown individual who may disrupt their progress and lead them to failure or that person may turn out to be a godsend. They simply don’t have enough data, evidence, and information to know which of those two things you may be.

I am a huge fan of something called the trust equation. It’s a behavioural equation that speaks to the key levers which build and sustain trust with both individuals and communities. I would recommend you work with this equation to build trust with a new team.

The trust equation is your credibility multiplied by your reliability multiplied by your intimacy – how well you know that person – and underpinned by your self-orientation. This is important because it provides me with 4 key levers to build trust actively and conscientiously.

Trust is personal. Teams don’t trust you, individuals on that team trust you, so we need to work on developing the relationships and growing trust with individuals in the environment.


  • How credible are you as an Agile coach?
  • How trustworthy are you as an expert in your field with extensive knowledge of agile?
  • Do you have the necessary qualifications, certifications, and expertise to fulfil the role?
  • Do you have the necessary experience, capabilities, and competence as an Agile coach?

This can be a tough one for newbie agile coaches because you don’t have the string of certifications, qualifications, and years of experience in the field. You can make up for it, however, by having extensive knowledge of your craft and be able to cite thought leaders, experts and literature that pertains to your field.

If you are super qualified and possess valuable certifications, you may be lucky enough to have that introduced to the team before you arrive to help establish your credibility early in the engagement. You can volunteer that information yourself – which I am not a fan of doing – but it will help settle the team down and establish credibility early.

A better way to establish that credibility with the team is through conversations that demonstrate that you know your stuff and have frames of reference to help them understand agile and/or scrum as it relates to their unique context.

Talk to them about who you are, what you have done, what experience you bring to the table, and what you have been contracted to do. Help them understand your role, relevance, and how you aim to help the team achieve their goals and objectives.

Conversations help establish that you are a credible source of information and expertise, and that the team are in great hands. It helps them understand that you serve a valuable purpose and that they are safe to engage with you about the challenges they face.


This is a straightforward one and easy to build regardless of how much expertise or experience you have. In its simplest form, reliability is doing what you said you would do, how you said you would do it, within the time frames you committed to doing it.

Building trust based on reliability is something you have probably been doing your whole life. With your family, your friends, and your work colleagues. It is a demonstration of reliably doing what you commit to doing and reinforcing that you are someone that people can trust to get the job done.

Newbie Agile coaches sometimes make the mistake of being too eager and enthusiastic in the beginning of an engagement and committing to deliver on absolutely everything. As they walk down the path, they realise that they can’t deliver, reliably, within the time frames they committed to and end up breaking trust early in the engagement.

An experienced coach would rather commit to far less and make sure that they can deliver, reliably, against all the elements they committed to. They would rather say no to things which they can’t reliably deliver against and focus on the things that they are certain they can deliver.

Don’t fall into the trap of overcommitting and underdelivering. Once trust is broken it is incredibly hard to earn it in future.


Intimacy refers to how well people know you. In brand development, this refers to the breadth and depth of knowledge that other people have about working with you and dealing with you.

Using the analogy of a babysitter above, this is when you have a deep knowledge of someone who is a qualified and competent babysitter and trust, absolutely, that your kids are in safe hands when contracting them for the evening.

They are known to you, your spouse, your family, and your kids. They may well have babysat for many months or years before and have established a track record of reliability and consistency.

This is tough to establish early on in your agile coaching engagement because people simply won’t know who you are, and you haven’t been around long enough for them to feel comfortable with you.

Again, you need to have conversations and engage people to grow and build intimacy.

I am a big fan of taking things off site and meeting people for a cup of coffee to have conversations that help them understand who I am, what I am aiming to achieve, and how I can help them achieve their goals and objectives.

I am also a big fan of asking people, at the end of the coffee meeting, to recommend who I should speak to next, and if possible, to introduce me to that person with a recommendation that I meet with them.

It makes the process a lot smoother and easier when someone that they know makes the introduction and actively recommends having a cup of coffee to discuss opportunities than it does making a cold introduction and request myself.

If people learn that you are credible and reliable, the intimacy element takes care of itself.

They learn that they can rely on you and that you are an expert in your field that can help them overcome the challenges they face or achieve the objectives they are pursuing, and that leads to stronger relationships and greater trust down the line.

This element simply takes time to build, and you need to invest in consistently meeting with people and having valuable conversations with them.


Self-orientation is how you position yourself in terms of intention and purpose.

If you are selfish, overtly ambitious about achieving your own agenda, and have little regard for people it won’t matter if you are credible, reliable and people have a deep knowledge of who you are.

You simply won’t earn trust, nor will you keep it if it is offered to you freely.

If you are prepared to burn the house down to further your career, nobody is going to invest their time, effort and resources in helping you achieving that goal nor will they trust you with things that they care about.

If, however, people witness that you care about other people and are genuinely doing your best to help your team achieve their objectives, they learn to trust that you are a good person with great intentions.

They learn that they can trust you and that you are worthy of that trust.

Self-orientation means that you are curious about others and genuinely committed to helping others achieve their goals and objectives. Genuinely committed to being a team player and helping both individuals, as well as the team, achieve the things that most matter to them.

If you are credible, reliable, and people witness that your self-orientation leans toward doing right by others and creating environments where others can excel, you will establish trust quickly and effectively.

So, that is my recommendation to a new agile coach in a contract environment.

Use the trust equation to build, nurture and develop trust.

If you are interested in becoming an agile coach and value mentored, coach-driven skills development in your journey to mastery, visit our Growing Scrum Masters website.

For more information on John McFadyen, connect with John on LinkedIn at

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If you are already a scrum master and want to upskill to a more advanced level of knowledge and agile coaching capability, visit our Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM) course page.

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John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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