February 28, 2023

Powerful Ways To Motivate A Development Team

What drives motivation? One of the core Agile principles is to build teams around motivated individuals, but how is this done? The psychological elements fueling peoples’ behavior differs greatly from person to person. Some work for a paycheck, and some do it because they genuinely love their job. Whether big or small, most people have ambitions, goals, and desires that they are working towards. Some are intrinsically motivated, and some may need a little extra help.

As Agile Delivery Managers, ADMs, part of our job is to promote a culture of innovation and motivation by encouraging and leading our teams to be self-managing. Throughout our journey at Acklen Avenue, we’ve discovered some powerful ways to keep teams motivated.

Encourage Open Communication

We say, “People over Process.” As an Agile company, it’s important to create an environment where leaders know the company values and put them into practice. This creates an environment in which team members feel comfortable speaking up. There are many ways you can encourage open communication, including:

  • Schedule recurring 1:1 meetings

Not everyone feels comfortable speaking in group settings, but one-on-one meetings can provide a closed environment for genuine dialogue. These regular check-ins between you (a leader) and a team member offer time to get to know the people who make up the team and discover their personalities. Find ways to be genuinely interested in their lives and their professional development.

  • Set a follow-up team process

There are many automated processes that we can use in software development to programmatically trigger notifications, but human interaction can make a difference in team dynamics. Once someone’s done with a task or card, ask them to follow up with their peers. A simple: “Hey, I finished this. I’ll leave it in your hands now” shows more human interest than an automated message.

“Of course, some of these automated things help, but it’s the interaction that is best to help maintain effective communication between teams. We don’t walk down the hall and see each other like you would in a regular office. We have to emulate those scenarios so that when getting a huddle via Slack, we are intentional with talking to each other.”

Susan Breedlove
Agile Delivery Manager

  • Take responsibility for your actions

Encourage team members to call you out. As leaders, we try our best to be role models but sometimes fail. It’s important to have that transparency and trust between each other. Own up to your mistakes and make sure your team feels safe enough to let you know when you make them.

Lead Teams To Be Self-Managing

Self-managing teams are self-driven and self-aware, operating without a leader micromanaging every decision they make. Create situations where team members take charge and then facilitate a space for the team to discuss what went well, what didn’t, and how you can solve any issues. By tracking progress, asking meaningful questions, and instilling a mindset of intentional growth, teams learn to trust each other and develop strong internal communication.

Is there someone on the team who is showing budding leadership skills that they’re eager to refine? Let them lead in some areas. Couple that with a coaching mentality where you provide encouragement, support, and opportunities for reflection. You’ll often see people take off in a direction they would never have had if you directed them which way to go.

Be willing and open to critique your own ideas and sometimes go with the team’s ideas. When team members, including yourself, disagree about a path forward, highlight those ideas. Reflect them back to the team. Ask for refinement or clarity and encourage the team to discuss the impacts of choosing each option over the other. A leader is always available to guide the team through the right path, but encourages members to be critical thinkers and problem solvers.

“People like being able to chart their own destiny. Some wise leadership advice was once given to me: “hire the right people, give them the tools to do their job, and get out of the way.” As an ADM, you’re helping to build a solid foundation; a launch pad for the team members, who are the rockets. Build the best launch pad you can for them, help them fuel up, and watch as they blast off.”

Evan Hensley
Agile Delivery Manager

Be a Servant Leader

A servant leader hinges on building influence and authority rather than using control and toxic leadership tactics. You can certainly get results by task-mastering, nagging, and adopting a strong command-and-control approach. People will do what they’re told, work will be completed, and clients will go away happy. But this approach tends to be shortsighted and often leaves team members feeling unfulfilled. We find a servant-leadership model much more effective at delivering results and keeping team members satisfied with their jobs.

As ADMs, we see ourselves as servant-leaders and coaches. This puts us in a position to help team members uncover their motivations and then harness them for the benefit of themselves, the team, and the engagement. When working with your team, be more than “willing to help” with menial tasks when needed. When your team needs your help, be grateful that you have a team to help! Remember to always be confident but remain humble when leading a team.

“Being a servant leader means that you’re there for them if they need something. If a Scrum Master or BA, has a doctor’s appointment, I’ll fill in wherever I need to to help out. I’ll run the daily meeting, I’ll facilitate a grooming session and/or write cards, so that way the team doesn’t miss a beat.”

Andre Brousseau
Agile Delivery Manager

Create an Environment of Trust

A work environment should be positive, comfortable and a safe place for everyone. High level of trust is key to a good and positive environment. There are many strategies you can include in your day-to-day process to create an environment of trust.

  • Radical candor

Be honest with your team, even when that means saying things that might ruffle feathers. Disclaimer! This should be used with caution, empathy, and deference to the business settings.

  • Give thanks and praise

Thank your team and the individuals for the work that they do. Thank them for acts of bravery, large or small. Even speaking up in a meeting can be an act of bravery. When a team member raises their hand to say they messed up, praise them for it!

  • Frame failures as learnings

When you frame a failure as a genuine opportunity to learn, you create an environment where everyone can take part in the solution. It becomes an opportunity to grow, to cover a gap in process, or to support a fellow team mate. This makes it safer for teams to take risks and exercise their critical thinking skills.

  • Healthy conflict

Conflict is generally associated with being a negative thing, but it can be healthy if it’s respectful, kept impersonal and everyone has an equal opportunity to be heard. Healthy conflict is essential for high-performing teams to be able to make better decisions, but as a leader, you must encourage your team to be open while creating a safe atmosphere. Below are some strategies that can help you get started.

  1. Make sure the quiet voices are heard and call on that quiet member from time to time.
  2. Force your team to present multiple ideas when there is a high degree of uncertainty. In other words, don’t fall prey to groupthink.
  3. When someone, including yourself, presents an idea and you don’t see much pushback or agreement, request that someone shares a differing opinion, even if they don’t necessarily disagree.

“When exercising any of the above strategies, it’s important to consider the audience. Some cases call for small group settings, some for 1 on 1, still others might warrant company-wide kudos. Knowing the individuals who comprise the team can also help you make decisions around how to communicate different kinds of feedback.”

Heathman Nichols
Agile Delivery Manager

Care About Their Well-Being

We all have those days (or even weeks) where we just don’t seem to be engaging like we know we can, something in our personal life is dragging us down, or just can’t find the energy or motivation. As someone leading a team, you must support their well-being, especially during uncertain times. The last thing you want is for your team to lose mindfulness, clarity and motivation.

  • Support your team’s goals

Help teams and individuals set goals that serve as a “North Star” when times get tough and zest runs low. Maybe a team member has a goal of learning a new skill relevant to the project. Maybe the team wants to see cycle times for one release just a little bit better than the last one. Maybe there are some core elements of teamwork that the team has elected to work on that you can draw focus back to. The key here is that these goals are set by the individuals on the team, with the ADM in a support and facilitation role.

  • Name the issue, not the person

Don’t shy away from involving people in an explanation for the root cause of an issue (but don’t let that become the sole emphasis). Nothing occurs in a vacuum, so to pin something on a single individual almost always overlooks some key aspect of the failure, leading to more failures.

  • Respect boundaries

Support your team’s work/life balance, especially if you’re a fully remote company.  Make meetings efficient and productive to prevent from going overtime and respect their blocked times for focus time or lunch breaks. Remind them to go for a walk or stretch every now and then. Ask about their plans or their family, and share your own.

  • Radical Empathy

At the end of the day, the team is human. Everyone gets sick, has family emergencies, has kids or pets at home, needs to run errands or simply has a personal matter that needs attention. On a team, everyone should have each other’s backs. Put yourself in their shoes and value their personal lives. Don’t be afraid to experience emotions alongside your team.

Motivation is a spectrum. If you set yourself up as the authority on what motivates someone, you will fall on the wrong side of the spectrum. Motivated people are typically more adaptable, especially when it comes to change, and they bring a positive attitude to work. They reinforce an organization’s good reputation, miss less work, and improve performance and overall profit. With these benefits in mind, the positive impacts that proper motivation can have on both team member wellness and the goals you have for your business. Done right, you create an environment where everyone wins.