February 20, 2015
Most people have no idea how to motivate agile teams or create high performing teams. And even if you tell them, they don’t seem to remember or care.
I’ve had more than a few conversations over the last few years that led me to this conclusion, and I have heard some pretty outlandish and offensive things.
In each case, it started with someone outside the Development Team who was frustrated at the Team’s pace of delivery. They talked about various approaches they would take to motivate the agile team.
I even had a Product Owner demand that a development team work overtime and weekends to hit a key delivery date that was promised by someone outside the team. That product Owner didn’t see that the lack of team autonomy directly impacted the team’s motivation.
In all cases, there was a lack of trust and a desire to push or motivate the team in some way. The people outside the team viewed the team as unmotivated and they believed that they needed to do something to motivate the team. They wanted to either offer a reward or threaten a punishment. These efforts work to create high-performing teams, right?
Traditional thinking is that you need to use a combination of rewards and punishments to motivate people who would otherwise be unmotivated. People are generally lazy and unwilling to work, that is how this theory goes.
We need to offer them a bonus to get their discretionary effort. Maybe we buy them pizza. Maybe we circle around to check up on them and see what they are working on. Or we can threaten layoffs to light a fire under their asses!
There is another more modern line of thought that says that the carrot and stick approach may work on menial tasks, but it doesn’t work at all with knowledge workers (that is, almost everybody these days).
This approach says that knowledge workers are intrinsically motivated and that efforts to use rewards and punishments will only backfire. This line of thought, popularized by Frederick Herzberg and more recently by Daniel Pink, encourages leaders to create the conditions that tap into team members intrinsic motivation.
This includes giving people control over their work, providing opportunities for challenge and mastery, and aligning their work with a higher purpose.
This is actually really exciting news. We can avoid throwing money, corner offices or inflated but meaningless titles at someone. Instead, we can just hope they are internally motivated.
But wait, how do we do that? It turns out, we need to set the stage by creating the conditions for high performing teams.
Rather than trying to motivate agile teams, another approach is to take people that are already motivated, put them on agile teams, and then create the conditions for them to do their best work.
Forget the carrot and stick. Instead, set the context and environment. Focus on creating the conditions favorable to self-motivation, creativity, and productivity.
In an Agile environment, whose job is it to create the context and environment? Is it the managers or leaders? Scrum Master? Product Owner? Or the team themselves?
It turns out it is everyone’s job. Creating an environment for people to do their best work works best when everyone helps.
Agile leaders and managers play a big part in setting the context for success. Some of the ways that they create context that motivates agile teams include:
My friend and colleague Susan DiFabio says that leaders and managers “make work possible”. Learn more about the role of the Agile Leader from this blog post, or see our Training Courses designed to equip leaders.
Scrum Masters usually work directly with the teams, coaching them to self-organize and protecting them. They create an environment for people to flourish, which serves to motivate agile teams.
For more about the Scrum Master Role, see Puzzled About the Scrum Master Role.
Managers, leaders, Scrum Masters and even Product Owners should be willing to do what they can to help the team.
What do you think is the best way to motivate agile teams? Do you think that we can create the conditions for teams to be self-motivated?