The other day I read a couple of articles from the March issue of allPM.com focused on team motivation and got motivated myself to write a post on the subject.
Jolyon Hallows mentions at the end of his article that the top three motivators identified in a study of employees in various industries were the recognition of contribution, the degree of control over work and appreciation. He doesn't identify the study quoted but these outcomes are similar to the findings of the Cangemi Study, which based on a survey of 35,000 employees in 1986 identified the top three motivators to be:
- Appreciation for the work done
- Feeling "in" on things; and
- Sympathetic understanding of personal problems
Exactly the same findings were presented in the same year by John Throop, based on a study involving computer programmers.
Ensuring that team members feel "in" on things is, in my view, the hardest to achieve. It requires that team members feel they have some control over what work they do and in what order, that they feel they are listened to and are able to influence the decision-making process and that they can make a valuable contribution to achieving the overall vision.
An often quoted approach to get team commitment is to involve them in the planning effort, from defining the WBS or PBS and identifying inter-dependencies between products and tasks; to identifying risks and even helping design the processes underlying specific project activities, for example configuration management and defect management.
Another technique often used on 'Agile' projects is the "pull-down" task allocation, which encourages individual team members to accept ownership of tasks and thus assume responsibility for their completion (with overall accountability remaining with the team). It also empowers the team to decide the order in which tasks are done within the constraints of priorities set be the business owners.
Other Agile techniques for increasing involvement in the project, not just of developers but also of business owners and external stakeholders, include user story identification workshops, daily standup meetings to identify issues and roadblocks and iteration retrospectives to identify strategies for improvement.
So how do these techniques for increasing project team commitment and involvement work in practice?
One of my recent consulting assignments involved introducing the above techniques to a project team, whose members never worked together before and as individuals were used to a more command-control based approach.
Very early in the process it became obvious that not all members of the team responded equally to the changes in project dynamics resulting from the introduction of this 'Agile' approach.
- Internally Drivens (10% of employees)
- Supporters (50% of employees)
- Comfortables (30% of employees)
- Uncommitteds (10% of employees)
The main difference between these groups centres around their level of commitment, their responsiveness to new initiatives and their desire to achieve better outcomes both on an individual basis and for the team as well as the organisation.
The 'supporters' are the easiest group to motivate as they are generally high performers and open to new initiatives. They are also generally team and outcome rather than self focused, which reduces the potential for the "ego"-related issues to enter into the equation.
The 'comfortables' pose a challenge due to their reluctance to accept change and take on additional responsibility, while the 'uncommitteds' can severely hamper the change effort through their lack of participation and potentially infectious negative attitude.
The 'internally drivens', in my view, constitute the most interesting group and are the focus of this article. Due to their high internal drive they can be a real asset when it comes to implementing new initiatives and increasing motivation. They are perfectly suited to assume the role of internal Change Agents who are instrumental in introducing change strategies to the team and ultimately to other parts of the organisation.
They reinforce the desired attitudes and behaviours through their own example and are able to monitor the team internal dynamics to identify behavioural aspects requiring attention.
Based on the degree of trust and esteem they possess of their peers they can help resolve internal conflicts and elevate any team issues to the attention of the project manager.
It's important for the project manager to be able to identify these individuals and forge them into effective change agents. The most effective way to identify them in my experience is to allow the project team sufficient autonomy to encourage emergent behaviours and observe which individuals exhibit the following characteristics:
- actively encourage others
- emerge as 'go-to' people when other team members need assistance
- quickly adopt new processes and techniques
- offer suggestions for improvement
- endeavour to provide regular feedback and communicate issues affecting the team
- favour open communication channels over structured and formal communication
It's interesting to note that sometimes these individuals emerge from an unexpected quarter so the project manager should give each team member equal opportunity to show their capability. Frequent informal interactions with the project team in the style of 'water-cooler' conversations also help the project manager to gauge accurately, which behavioural group each team member falls into.
Once the project manager understands the psychology of the team he is better equipped to devise effective motivational strategies incorporating the use of team members as internal change agents to motivate the project team from within.