Agile Team Motivation

Agile Team Motivation

Based on Dan Pink’s articles and books, money can be a motivator for jobs without great uncertainty and mostly in mechanical jobs, with very small degree of expected innovation and creativity. When non-linear productivity is present, with great degree of uncertainty and where innovation and creativity do finishing the job, there are three main motivators:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

How this fits in the team. For years, I’m working with software teams, where all aforementioned conditions are fulfilled. The degree of uncertainty is big, estimations are just lucky guesses, more or less depending on different factors. Also, finishing the software depends on developers’ experience and creativity or ability to use this experience in new situations. Of course, there will always be projects doable by one developer, but, as I mostly work within the teams on very complex projects, with several multi-functional and specialized teams, I’ll be writing about setup of an agile team. Agile movement has become a mainstream in software teams and embracing agile principles brought many goods to people, teams, projects and organizations. Agile comes in many forms (like Scrum, Lean,…) and there is no “one-fits-all” solution and even more, believe or not, Agile does not fit in all organizations and projects. Now, when I made this statement, I’ll also make a statement, which I deeply believe based on my experience – if you can bring your team really to believe in agile values and principles, embracing and implementing it through the practices, it will almost certailnly bring good to your team members, project and organization.

Many people, specially on conferences speak about agile topics as a holy grail, mostly in vague and abstract way, showing that they have little or no concrete experience working with the real projects, the real projects, solving the real issues. I’ll try to speak about concrete experiences I had with the team motivation, from abstract level, going deep dive towards concrete practices and solutions I implemented. Once again, don’t take it as a prescriptive thing – there is no “one-fits-all” solution, but hearing about my experience might be good for your imagination and creativity in case you come in some similar situation.

Team motivation is starting from individual motivation to work on project, with certain technology, within a certain team etc., so all of Dan Pink’s motivation factors apply. But, that’s not all. Within the team more complex rules apply. Also, all these rules and complexities can be observed through the prism of Pink’s rules. Let’s see how they apply.

Autonomy in the context of team might sound crazy, having in mind that all decisions, estimations etc. are done by the team. On the other hand, every single team member is expected to contribute the team with her unique knowledge and experience in bringing estimations, decisions and finally the work which needs to be done. Since amount of work is split, every team member should be able to autonomously take the task/user story, autonomously to bring it to finished state. Of course, she can count on team members’ help. But, her own competence is expected to be team’s strength, not the weakness. So, working alone or in pair, team members use their skills, experience and competences to autonomously bring solutions to the project. Finally, the work is supposed to be done by a person, autonomous and highly respected within the team. So autonomy doesn’t sound so crazy any more. Invididuality should bring new value, a new flavour to the team, project and the organization – should boost the project.

Working alone, as a freelancer for example, might bring a lot of autonomy to the person, a lot of responsibility, but will draw back possible improvement to the highest mastery levels. Not having anyone to discuss with about the possible solutions, new technology, to challange her/him about proposed solutions is pretty damaging for the loner’s mastery. On the other hand team members are pushing each other to the boundary limits, challanging each other with solutions suggested, opening new worlds to each other, exchanging knowledge, experience and soft skills. Mastery inside the team is encouraged and assisted. Having Google, articles, books as a support is good, but having another living developer creature by your side is irreplacable.

Feeling belonging to the team, fulfilling purpose within the team on a great project is really overwhelming. Also, team achieving a goal usually brings a feeling of greater purpose to the individual. Every team member has her own/individual agenda and fulfilling her own plan, within an team, encouraged and assisted by the team also brings sense of the purpose fulfilling to the individual.

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