Who’s got the power?

Who has got the most power over your team? Is it your manager, or perhaps your local tech guru?

Well…probably not! Not if you picked a reasonably motivated individual anyway…

According to team building expert Christopher Avery, the most powerful member of a team is the least motivated person!

Really? How can that be?

Easy…low motivation is more contagious than high motivation. Nobody likes to carry the weight of a slacker! Thus, slackers tend to drag their complete teams down to a similar low level of performance!

Interesting, but if we have an attractive bonus system and decent salaries, that will make sure everyone is motivated, right?

Well…take a look at this story, slightly modified from the version told by Alfie Kohn in his book “Punished by rewards”:

“An old man had some problems with the local kids. Every day they used to stop by and taunt him, throwing stuff at his house and calling him names. Luckily, the man used to be developer on an agile software development team in his youth. Using what he learnt about the human psyche in the old days, he came up with a plan:

The next day when the kids stopped by to taunt him, the man offered them each a dollar for coming back the next day to taunt him some more. The kids accepted his offer and came back the next day. When they did, the man offered them 50 cents each to come back again the next day. The kids grumbled a bit, but came back the next day to deliver some more abuse. When they did, the man again offered them some money to keep coming back, but now he only offered them ten cents each. The kids were really dissatisfied with this offer and never came back.”

By introducing a reward for something the kids enjoyed doing for free, he was able to take away their intrinsic motivation and make them stop.

Wow…we probably should take some care so that we don’t accidentally do that! But what does work then?

In his article “One more time: How do you motivate employees?”, Frederick Herzberg reveals some related research results: The factors that cause job dissatisfaction are not the same factors that cause job satisfaction. E.g. salaries can cause dissatisfaction, but never extreme satisfaction. On the other hand “achievement”, “work itself”, “growth”, and “recognition” are all factors, “Motivators”, that can cause extreme job satisfaction.

This sounds familiar…pride in work, right to do quality work, focus on learning and personal growth are some of the “Motivators” that are right there at the core of agile development. And according to surveys like the annual VersionOne, “The State of Agile Development”, agile teams really do enjoy work more than other teams. But still, everyone is different. How can we make sure that each and every member in our teams is motivated?

Christopher Avery again has some insights. In his book “Teamwork is an individual skill”, he proposes that each team should have 5 conversations to enable high performance teamwork. One of these conversations is “aligning interests”, i.e. figure out what motivation each individual has to contribute his full potential to the team. Keep finding ways to rearrange work until everybody has similar motivation. He also offers a breakthrough technique to figure out what motivates each individual: Just ask!

So, who’s got the power on your team? How about just asking?

– Henrik

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