Tuesday, April 21, 2020

How to increase team motivation and sustain it | SupremeAgile


The best agile teams are built from people who work together as one unit, where each team member has both the technical and the personal skills to allow the team to become self-organized, cross-functional and self-motivated.  These are all big words that I hear in almost every agile project, but the criteria to make a great agile team are almost impossible to achieve without one major factor: motivation towards a common goal.

So how can we improve team motivation and sustain it throughout the project? Prior to answering this question, I want to review the two types of motivation that we must encourage within the team to promote success:  Intrinsic and extrinsic  

Intrinsic motivation refers to behavior driven by personal internal reward, without the need for an external boost to increase motivation. This motivation is related to the person’s desire to succeed and achieve a certain goal. The main key for this type of motivation is that we must ensure that each team member has the chance to not just meet expectations as a member of a team, but also accomplish their own personal goals that will most likely increase both their own and the team’s results.

Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, refers to an external motivating factor such as vacations, bonuses, salary increases or just getting a paycheck at the end of the month. We can treat this type of motivation as a desire to do something in order to achieve a specific reward.

To allow the team to become self-organized, cross-functional and self-motivated, we must cover both motivation types while searching for a balance between organizational and personal goals. One thing that I learned throughout the years is that there are no shortcuts. We must know our employees and the factors that motivate them. This is the only way to achieve both personal and team success.

The path to create a highly motivated agile team

Here I will share the most effective rules and principles that I use to increase individual and team motivation. I know that there are many other methods that you can use in one situation or another, but I never had a motivation problem that I could not resolve by using one of the following approaches.


Treat all team members as equals but know their differences

A scrum team is built from different people that are assembled  to achieve a common goal. It is nice to say that all team members are equal, but they are not. We always need to remember that each team member has his or her own set of skills, knowledge, and experience. Although we need to ensure that each member works under the same set of rules, guidelines, and goals, as they are equal within the team, the next level is to understand which team members are more suitable for accomplishing specific goals that may arise during a challenging development project.

A great example of this issue is a technical lead who is part of the team with vast knowledge in a specific technology that the team will use throughout the project. This technical lead will still work under the exact rules and boundaries as all other team members. Thanks to his knowledge, however, we can free up his time to focus on a single area and move all other activities (activities which may be less prestigious in the eyes of other team members, such as bugs, dealing with customers, and closing technical debt) to other team members.


Show interest in the team and its members

Throughout the years, you learn that motivation starts with just paying attention to the team and letting them know it. Think about them as your own child who wishes for a good word once you return from work, or how important it is for him to hear your appreciation for what he achieved today in school. They, like your child (as a team and as individuals), want you to listen to them, celebrate their achievements, and just pay attention to what they have to say.


Meetings, meetings, and more meetings

I’ve never seen an engineer who wants to participate in multiple meetings that just keep him from working. The scrum framework contains multiple events, which can be a motivation killer for those engineers who do not understand why they need so many meetings that just interfere with their ability to remain focused. This is especially true for new teams that just started working this way.

It is essential that each meeting that is added makes sense to the team; otherwise, it is just one more meeting that’s holding them back. If you add meetings, make sure they have a clear agenda so that the team does not feel like they are wasting their time in an already busy environment.


Increase interest with challenging tasks

Some people prefer to have some changes in their day-to-day work that allow them to regain their excitement and interest in what they are doing. There is some sense of excitement at the start of the project, and when starting agile there are massive changes in all aspects of the team’s work, which is enough to keep their interest.

After this period, the team will already have gained most of the knowledge that they need to work in this framework, and they will focus their attention on the ongoing daily activities that are part of every sprint (meetings, handling defects, etc.). This is where team members may start to lose their interest due to the repetition of activities without any new challenges. The best solution, in this case, is to break the routine by adding challenging tasks that will help the team regain their motivation and interest.


Supportive working environment

The working environment plays a very important factor in determining team motivation. Remember that the team will spend most of their effective hours in work, and therefore it is very important to ensure that they have a supportive and pleasant working environment where they feel comfortable working and developing as a team.

Set goals that will not fail the team to begin with

Think about a leader who sets unrealistic goals for the team, such as delivering features at the end of a sprint that the team has neither the knowledge nor the experience to handle, or asking the team to complete an integration with another team although the second team will not be ready on time, or asking the team to deliver a feature during a sprint that involves multiple external interruptions that will consume most of their time.

Setting a goal that a team does not have a real chance to meet is probably one of the biggest grounds for reducing team motivation. Will you have the right motivation after you need to present a demo of your work at the end of the sprint but fail to do it because you have been given an unrealistic goal? I guess not.

To make sure we allow the team to see success, the team must work with clear, visible and above all measurable goals that will allow them to succeed with a smaller chance to fail right from the beginning.  One classic example is a team that has huge technical debt that affects their ability to deliver real value to the customer. In such a case, we can set a goal of reducing this technical debt by five to ten percent per sprint. By setting such a goal, we can be assured that the team understands what is expected of them and measure it from sprint to sprint. In addition, the team will have the opportunity to create a plan and add all relevant stories that are related to this goal, which will increase transparency for external stakeholders.


Creativity that comes from real freedom

There is a reason why you hire smart people, and there is a better reason why we need to provide them with freedom to use their creativity while working on tasks. My rule is that you need to set guidelines for any task but allow the team to use their own creativity in deciding how they want to reach the objective. By following this simple rule, we allow the team to find superior solutions to problems based on what they thought was the best solution instead of just giving them some strict guidelines that will kill room for innovation.


Make room for mistakes

Mistakes are part of every solution and cannot be avoided. Team members will make mistakes no matter how talented and committed they are. The key here is to set clear boundaries that allow them the freedom to work and use their skills but reduce the percentage of mistakes that will have a severe impact on the organization. In addition, we must make sure that each member has the confidence to make mistakes because there are no “punishments” that will keep them from trying again.


Be clear about the prioritization

You all know that the product owner is responsible to ensure that the stories are prioritized in the order that will provide the best ROI for the customer. How is prioritization related to team motivation? Well, think about a planning meeting where the team must decide which stories will take place in the next sprint but with a product owner who fails to perform his job and does not prioritize the product backlog. Will it increase motivation? Probably not, because it will lead to an inefficient, long and less-focused meeting. If the team had a prioritized backlog, it would allow them to maintain focus without losing time on other stories that the PO later decides are less important just because he failed to determine it earlier.

Thanks to Tally Helfgott for proofreading :) 

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