I was recently approached by a group that wanted to get my thoughts on a number of team leadership issues. One of the questions seemed odd to me – it was phrased something like “Describe a time when you felt you had to (or successfully) motivated your team.” The reason this seemed odd to me was I feel like I do it all the time.
The question that you should be asking yourself as a leader is, “What motivates people?” But don’t ask it so generally unless you’re just looking for a pool of potential answers. Motivation is different from person to person, and as a leader you need to be adept at identifying an individual’s motivators and adapting your technique to individualize rewards.
Appreciation is a remarkably simple motivator, yet it’s one that I have often felt lacking in many environments. It turns out that my gut instinct was right. A recent from Tony Schwartz, Why Appreciation Matters So Much on the HBR blog network, notes that
The single highest driver of engagement, according to a worldwide study conducted by Towers Watson, is whether or not workers feel their managers are genuinely interested in their wellbeing. Less than 40 percent of workers felt so engaged.
Appreciation costs nothing, and when it is genuine, it is noticed. Tony goes on to discuss some reasons as to why appreciation is not shown more. One that I think is overlooked is that it makes the leader feel vulnerable. To show appreciation is to indicate that one could not do it alone. While this is a pretty standard truth, actually saying it may make one feel like their ego has been dinged. Whatever the case, most of us can’t go it alone, and appreciation should be a key piece of one’s toolkit when leading and motivating teams.
A quick glance at the dictionary gives us a definition of the word agile – “marked by ready ability to move with quick easy grace.” The IT community has co-opted this word and extrapolated a meaning that is really beyond description. Of course, what else were we supposed to do?
Much comparison has been drawn between building software and physical construction (e.g. building a house). But this comparison really isn’t fair. While it’s true that it’s extremely costly to make changes to a building after it is erected, the same multipliers used in that industry cannot be applied to software. Seriously – have you ever had to bring a demolition crew in to remove a section of code? The delete key is our wrecking ball.
At some point, I’m sure a manager looked at this software construction like building construction parallel and said, “I need you guys to work in a more agile manner.” And there it began. Sure, there were puzzled looks in the conference room, but then they all went back to their war room or desks and started figuring out what the manager meant by agile. Today, we have a half dozen agile methodologies that address this perceived need to move fast. Each of them has their own caveats of “this may not be the best approach for you.” Unfortunately those sections seem to be often skipped.
The Software Development Life Cycle you choose for your project should not be dictated by whichever magazine article is sitting on your desk at the moment. It is a choice that needs to be carefully made based on your entire situation. What is the makeup of your team? Do they work best on well-defined tasks or are they better when left to find creative approaches? What is your relationship and level of involvement and commitment with your customer? What type of project is it – are you solving a well defined problem or is further research required?
My parting thought for today is a continuation of the last paragraph’s them – ask questions. If you are the team lead or project manager, your value comes from applying the experience you’ve gathered from past projects. When your customer or manager makes a broad statement, dive into it and understand what he is asking for. You will then have a much clearer shot at success, no matter what methodology you choose to deliver it.
One area I am attempting to become better at is giving feedback to both my peers, those whose work I supervise, and those I work for. I am a very analytical person and I have come to realize that I tend to observe a pattern and then try to digest it rather than simply expose that pattern. In other words, I’m looking for the answer. So I am working to simply give timely feedback to people rather than give them the answer.
Obviously there is much more to feedback than this small example. A recent article called “The art (and science) of giving good feedback” outlines a few rules for making feedback useful. To do this, it has to not only be timely and specific, but also not demotivating to the person receiving it. One surprising anecdote in rule #3 says to “praise the actions, not the individual.” This seemed somewhat strange, but in fact reinforces the things that made the person successful, thus giving some reference point to look back to when trouble is encountered.
The article has several other great rules and advice. Check it out: The art (and science) of giving good feedback
An article in the Wall Street Journal this week talked about a great technique for getting new hires excited about your company. It involves figuring out who the employee’s support system is behind the scenes, and then sending visible signs of appreciation for them to enjoy. I personally experienced this over a decade ago when I arrived home from my first day at Solarcom to find a flower basket had been delivered as a welcome gift. Of course, that is where it ended, but it was a good start nonetheless. Michalowicz says:
Here’s the key to winning over an employee’s family: Start from day one. The first thing your newly hired staff member will likely hear from a significant other when he gets home is, “How was your first day?” If he spent it mostly filling out a three-foot stack of forms, ordering his own business cards and eating lunch alone, he might rightfully answer: “Lousy.”
His solution is to get all of the paperwork out of the way before the new hire walks in the door, and instead have the employee spend the day with his new manager learning about the company, going out to lunch with co-workers, etc. While this probably works well for a small business, I couldn’t imagine spending an entire day with the new hire. And doing the paperwork before starting?? What a waste of my personal time .
However, I do believe that he’s on to something by appealing to the support system. If you win them over, then they will be much more supportive when you have to travel, work a late night, or some other event occurs that requires a change of plans back home.
Read more -> Impressing Your Employee’s Better Half