We've just launched plato for individuals

🔥

login


Google Sign inLinkedIn Sign in

Don't have an account? 

Limits of Too Much Trust

Underperformance
Feelings aside
Managing Expectations

30 September, 2020

Brian Guthrie, VP of Engineering at Meetup, explains where are the limits of too much trust and why verifiable trust is the only trust befitting the workplace.

Problem

Several years ago, one of my reports had been approved for a transfer to Berlin. What I learned later was that between the time they have been approved for transferring and the time they went for Berlin, they simply stopped working. I learned of that too late and was not successful in getting a transfer stopped.
 

For me as a leader who invests heavily in a notion of extending trust to people and who believes in a high trust concept within an organization, I felt for the first time that that trust was violated and it taught me the value of verifiable trust, the only trust befitting the workplace.
 

Actions taken

As I was running a couple of cross-platform product teams that worked across several different codebases I didn’t make it a practice to read all pull requests running through the team. I had to trust that the team was taking care of itself and that someone working the iOS base, for example, was doing the work that was expected of them. Also, it was a slightly larger team of 13 or 14 people and I wasn’t able to pay very close attention to what every individual on the team was doing.
 

Gradually, I realized that stories were getting stuck and weren’t quite moving through and the person responsible for that was not showing up at a couple of meetings where this was discussed. What I finally did was something I hadn’t done before -- I dug into that source code repository and scraped it looking for commits with their name on it.
 

I felt very uncomfortable and I didn’t like running that kind of audit, but what I found was that there weren’t any commits with their name on it. They had submitted nothing to the main code branch of that repository for a month and a half. They told me that the team in Berlin wanted them to do a bit of work and I hopped on to a call with them sharing my concerns about this person’s productivity. Needless to say, they were surprised to learn that this person was allegedly helping them. Then I started looking back at past meetings -- at that time we ran sprint planning meetings every couple of weeks -- and they have been absent for the last three of them. Though that seemed like an isolated incident at the time, they added up to a picture of someone who knew they would be leaving and therefore stopped working.
 

I understood that some drastic action was needed, but I nevertheless went to this person and shared with them what I found out. I extended them the benefit of a doubt and waited for two more weeks for them to merge the code as promised. That had never happened. They were in the midst of the transfer process and I wasn’t clear that I had the right to terminate them out.
 

I spoke to our VP of Engineering and laid it all out. I assembled a spreadsheet showcasing it all, not because I relished it but because I felt it was necessary. They ultimately made the decision to transfer that person to Berlin and from what I’ve heard they became a disciplinary problem later.
 

Lessons learned

  • At that time I felt like a failure as a leader who didn’t manage this person adequately. Having discovered the issue I could have managed it in a way that was either better for them or better for the company or more generally navigate through those waters more effectively.
  • Back then, I was encouraging people on the team to practice pair programming. He was stubbornly opposing that. In retrospect that also revealed a pattern of behavior that could alarm me, but I chose to trust them.
  • I try to hold in my heart this conviction that at the end of the day people want to be at their job doing productive and meaningful work. That was not true in their case and I resisted accepting that.
  • I re-evaluated what trust could and should mean for a leader. Not only that trust should have its own limits but that verifiable trust is the only trust befitting the workplace.

Related stories

Looking for a PM Job During the Covid-19 Pandemics
12 October

Prabha Matta, Senior Product Manager at SquareTrade, talks about her personal experience of looking for a PM job during the Covid-19 pandemics and how the changed circumstances affected her job search and interviewing process.

Hiring
Product
Managing Expectations
Prabha Matta

Prabha Matta

Senior Product Manager at Square Trade

Setting the First Product Innovation Team in a Large Corporation
30 September

Caroline Parnell, previously managed product teams at O2 and Vodafone, taps into her own experience of setting the first product innovation team and managing the process through a well-structured pipeline while collecting ideas coming from across the company.

Product Team
Managing Expectations
Caroline Parnell

Caroline Parnell

Most recently Head of New Product Innovation at Previously O2 and Vodafone

Limits of Too Much Trust
30 September

Brian Guthrie, VP of Engineering at Meetup, explains where are the limits of too much trust and why verifiable trust is the only trust befitting the workplace.

Underperformance
Feelings aside
Managing Expectations
Brian Guthrie

Brian Guthrie

VP of Engineering at Meetup

Changing of a Guard
24 September

Adam Bauman, Engineering Manager at Quizlet, shares how he had to find his way through when the company he was working at transitioned from one stage to another leaving many people redundant.

Managing Up
Managing Expectations
Legitimacy
Leadership
Reorganization
Adam Bauman

Adam Bauman

Engineering Manager at Quizlet

Balancing Tech Debt and Feature Development
14 September

Mason Mclead, CTO at Software.com, delves into how to take care of tech debt while pushing out new features and products.

Managing Expectations
Dev Processes
Mason Mclead

Mason Mclead

CTO at Software.com

You're a great engineer.
Become a great engineering leader.

Plato (platohq.com) is the world's biggest mentorship platform for engineering managers & product managers. We've curated a community of mentors who are the tech industry's best engineering & product leaders from companies like Facebook, Lyft, Slack, Airbnb, Gusto, and more.