Your Question Answered: Agile and Motivation

Agile MotivationFirstly, I love it when someone buys The Agile Project Manager. I love it even more when they tell me they read it. And what really is the very best thing is when they have a question about it. There’s nothing better than catching up with someone for coffee and talking about their experience reading the book and how they are using their learnings. But there’s not always time, and some of the questions I’m getting are quite similar, so in my last post I mentioned that I would be answering a few of the more popular questions in the blog. One of the first questions I was asked was about motivation, and its relationship to Agile.

Let’s talk Motivation

This question referred to page 54 in the paperback – the section on Personal Motivation in Chapter Two. Now, I am pretty excited about all things personal motivation – I am constantly looking for new ways to motivate my teams and myself. The fact this section was only a page is an absolute miracle. I include this quote from Tony Robbins from Unlimited Power:

“All human behavior revolves around the urge to gain pleasure or avoid pain. You pull away from a lighted match in order to avoid the pain of burning your hand. You sit and watch a beautiful sunset because you get pleasure from the glorious celestial show as day glides into night”

This quote encompasses one of the key meta-programs that define our personalities. Meta-programs (according to NLP) are high level mental processes that direct all of our behaviour. Some say we are wired this way and they are unchangeable. Some say that they can be changed.

The meta-program I was referring to in The Agile Project Manager was that of ‘toward vs away from‘. Some people are naturally motivated ‘toward’ something. In other words, their motivation comes from their need to move to something new and better. You could generalise and say they are optimistic, but it’s so much more than that. If you were motivating someone like this, you would need to ensure you had painted a clear picture of the future, and what is possible. In a project, these people are excited about the project vision and the difference they can make. Other people are what you call ‘away from’ motivated. They are not that excited about the new state, but will be motivated by the pain of the current state, and a strong desire to not be there anymore. In a project, you would motivate an ‘away from’ person by painting a picture of how bad things are with current product, system or process for them. There would need to be a strong need to move away from it. Agile ceremonies are geared to involve both types of motivation styles through collaborative planning and regular check ins.

Putting this into Practice

Neither are good or bad, better or worse. As project leaders, especially in collaborative Agile environments, we need to become masters in picking who is who. You could waste a lot of time working to inspire an ‘away from’ person about the project vision and what the new state will be. Or trying to get someone to work harder based on how bad the current state is when they are looking for something to aspire to. Agile ceremonies are a great opportunity to find out how your team is motivated. Even the daily stand up when people state what they are working on. Are they working towards something (say new) or working away from something? (say fixing an issue). What words do they use? How many find it easy to contribute to ‘what went well’ in a retro over ‘what did not go as well?’

It’s all about Balance

It would be no good having a team full of one type of person. In setting up your teams, ensure balance of meta-programs where possible so you have diversity of thought. Think about how you are motivated, and how that is impacting your results. Who do you need on your team to achieve that balance and diversity?

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About Emma Sharrock

Emma is the author of The Agile Project Manager: Thrive in Change with Agile. An experienced change leader, Emma is passionate about working with people to facilitate successful change. Emma utilises Agile techniques, coupled with the Agile mindset to coach leaders and teams to achieve their business goals.