April 16, 2021


News for Agilists

Leverage Scrum to Motivate Your Team

Creator: Konstantin Postumitenko | Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Imagine this — You are the Scrum Master of a highly motivated Scrum Team. How do you see that team functioning? Do you see them collaborating and innovating? Do you see them producing high quality, high-value software?

If your Scrum Team is not motivated, it’s unlikely they will achieve their true potential. Whereas, if the team is motivated, they will enjoy their work and perform beyond expectations.

In this article, we will discuss what motives teams, and how adopting Scrum can help you create highly motivated teams.

Dan Areily is a Duke University psychology professor and the author of Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations”. According to him, the real motivation is all about “Meaning”. The best-selling author refers to the meaning, value, and purpose of work people perform. Ariely’s research demonstrates that people are “strongly motivated by identity, the need for recognition, a sense of accomplishment, and a feeling of creation.

Let’s see how Scrum achieves all that and be a motivating factor for the teams. The Scrum guide has no mention of naming Scrum Teams. But naming Scrum Teams has now become a generally accepted Scrum activity. The team name gives the team its identity. The name may even capture the team spirit, values, or vision. The team name is the first step toward self-organization and recognition. Instead of being recognized as an individual, now the members associate themselves with their Scrum Team.

The Sprint Goal that the team creates is expected to generate the maximum value to the customer. Herein lies the “meaning” of the work that the team intends to produce. The Sprint Goal gives purpose and “meaning” to the team for that particular sprint. The onus is on the Scrum Master and the Product Owner to ensure that the team understands the value of the Sprint Goal to the customers. Understanding the value of the goal, in turn, will help the team give “meaning” to the work they do. The more the team relates to, understands, and internalizes the Sprint Goal, the more motivated they will be. With each time-boxed Sprint, the focus is always on delivering the biggest value to the customers. Scrum forces teams to keep their eyes on the prize, which in turn gives meaning to their work. If teams meet the Sprint Goal, the team feels a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of creation. Consistently meeting their Sprint Goals, leads to increased team motivation.

In his book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, the author Daniel H. Pink draws on four decades of scientific research to reveal the elements of true motivation — autonomy, mastery, purpose.

Purpose — people are encouraged to use their skills to achieve a “greater” purpose.

Autonomy — people are trusted and encouraged to take ownership of their own work and skill development.

Mastery — people see no limits to their potential and are given the tools they need to continue to improve their skills.

What David Pink refers to as “Purpose”, Dan Areily referred to as “Meaning.

The author refers to Autonomy as the desire to have control over one’s own life. That is exactly what self-organization gives to the Scrum Team — control over their work. A self-organizing team sets its own goals, decides its own objectives, and determines its own priorities.

Can you think of a better way to give autonomy to the team than creating self-organizing Scrum Teams? “Self-organizing” Although Scrum Teams work along with the Product Owner, they have the autonomy to decide:

  • what work they pick
  • identify all the work that needs to be done
  • rank tasks that are required, and
  • manage the timelines on their own

Every member of a self-organizing team sees the list of pending tasks as what is remaining for the entire team and not just for the individual.

Mastery is the desire to make progress and get better at something that matters to them. As Scrum Teams use empiricism, they adapt, learn, and evolve based on the knowledge gained from inspection. Using empiricism, Scrum Teams make decisions based on information they continuously collect, observe, and/or experience. Hence over time, they gain mastery over what matters — the work they do and the way they do it.

Motivation is contagious. There is solid evidence that positive emotions can actually “infect” others through a process known as “emotional contagion”. One team’s motivation will rub on to other teams as well. A highly motivated team can become a role model for other teams, and when they share their learnings, it helps the entire organization.

Next, let’s talk about the signs that indicate that the Scrum Team is motivated. In his book, “100 Greatest Ideas for Effective Leadership”, John Adair’s talks about these seven signs that indicate high motivation –

1. Energy to tackle challenges.

2. Commitment to the common purpose.

3. Staying power in the face of problems/difficulties/setbacks.

4. Possession of skills that indicate purpose and ambition.

5. Single-mindedness towards the goal.

6. Enjoyment goes hand in hand with motivation.

7. Willingness to seek responsibility and accept it.

A motivated team will exhibit these signs in the way they work, their achievements, and how they achieve it.

The Daily Scrum is a great place to watch for these positive traits. The energy of the team will be on display in how they collaborate and are engaged to meet the Sprint Goal. The commitment to meet the Sprint Goal, especially in a not-so-perfect situation, and how the team collectively resolves impediments will clearly be visible in the Scrum events.

The Scrum Master must actively watch for these traits in all team interactions, be it the Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, Sprint Retrospective, and even outside of these Scrum events. These events provide a great opportunity to the Scrum Master and the Product Owner to recognize whether the team is motivated or not. The level of motivation is a qualitative one, and can’t be accurately measured on a standard scale. Also, the way the teams exhibit these signs vary from team to team, and from time to time.

Scrum provides multiple opportunities to motivate teams to perform at the highest level. It is up to the Scrum Master, Product Owner, and even management to ensure that the right culture and work environment is created that motivates Scrum Teams. After all, creating motivated teams is management nirvana. If a team requires to be motivated, the Scrum Master must be motivated and inspired. Only then, he/she can motivate and inspire the team. If teams follow Scrum not only in theory, but the way it is actually meant to be, and develop an agile mindset, motivation will automatically follow.

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