Motivation agile teams

Motivation. How to motivate and how to not do it!


Course Start 4th August 2020

Motivation to write a blog post about motivation

“What would you choose: money or favourable work environment?”

Several weeks ago a friend asked this provocative question in LinkedIn.

Looking at the opened discussion, I recognized the good, old, well-known topic for the Motivation. Because of my experience and strong opinion in this area, I “motivated” myself to write a blog post about Motivation. So, here we are…

I have discussed lots of times the Motivation topic with colleagues and friends. Usually these discussions start with elaboration about the stick and the carrot. Maybe because we are 2018 the “Stick” motivator is not so controversial and we all agree it’s not working and if someone threaten us, we would quit immediately and will not even move a finger…


It’s not the same case with “The Carrot”. People usually think money is a good motivator. Despite the scientific researches proving that promising money for performance is a bad idea, still people are hardly convinced money will not motivate them. And how would they be? Everyone thinks: “Promise me a huge pile of money and I won’t sleep till it’s done!”

Even more, most of my co-workers shared stories with me how they have worked like “crazy” knowing that really big bonuses are on the table. So how can they believe in this “theoretical mambo-jambo”, they have real experience here?!

And because I was reading a lot about the topic I was arguing and arguing, claiming and proving that money is actually demotivating, but I was pretty much talking to myself. The folks’ real experience was different and they would not believe me no matter how many evidences I would have given them. And how could they, as they just simply ask themselves:
“Would I work harder if the goal is a big pile of money? – Of course, I would, I would not sleep and eat till I get it!”.
And they are right, I would do the same in this situation!

And finally I realized… 

We have different understanding about what “motivation” is. 

Both sides were right based on the definition. On one hand, we have “Motivation” (the big pile of money) as something that makes us work like crazy, trying harder and even sacrifice personal health. 

One small fact I realized here after rethinking these discussions: 

No one was talking about the final results! 

Maybe my friends had taken the bonuses, but none of them was elaborating with me if the final delivery was as expected, were there missing pieces and dirty workarounds, what was the quality, were they happy and proud with their achievements, were they coming with smile in the mornings, were they trying to be creative and achieve more than needed, to achieve greatness or they were just super focused and stressed to get the job done, no matter how…

What is Motivation?

So, here comes “mine” definition on Motivation, it’s the Magic, which makes you love what you do, that makes you smile and go to work thinking in the bus traveling to work about the cool idea you can’t wait to try. According “my” definition, motivation is something that awakes the artist and creator in us and makes us come with astonishing ideas and results much better and higher than initially expected. It’s something that will make us stay late at work just because we can’t remove our fingers from the keyboard (or other working tool), just because we are in the zone and we don’t want to miss the momentum. Have you been there? Have you been in the zone? 

I hope you have been there! Тhe feeling is super enthusiastic and the results are usually something you are proud of and something you want to share and to continue develop in future. And most important, you feel great even physically exhausted and you are not mad to anyone, just pure happiness. Is it pure happiness to see the money in your bank account? Maybe it could be close for a little moment, but actually I don’t think so. 

So, we cleared it! The motivators I talk about are these, that will make us happy, enthusiastic, creative and delivering much beyond the initially requested. These are called Intrinsic Motivators.

And opposite, Extrinsic Motivators are external in nature. If we do something to earn a reward or avoid punishment, we do it not because we enjoy, but in order to get something in return or avoid something unpleasant. This extrinsic motivation make us unhappy and stressed, less creative and demotivated.

Absence of Money is a Demotivator,
existence of Money is not a Motivator

Lack of enough financial incomes makes us feel unhealthy and demotivated. If we are paid less than deserved or under the amount, which we need to feel comfortable in our day-to-day life, thеn we will be unhappy and will look for other job. We would not try too hard at work if we feel we are not well paid and we worry about the money.
“Pay your people enough, so they can put the money off the table!”

The Maslow’s pyramid explains there are 5 levels categorized in 2 types of needs. 

The first part are the Basic and Psychological Needs.  About them we know, that person is “motivated” to have them, but the motivation decreases after achieving them. So, the big pile of money will focus us on getting the prize and not on how to do it best. After getting the money our motivation will decrease. Creativity and extraordinary results will simply slow us down. On the other hand, lack of these basic needs will demotivate us and we will start looking for a job change.

The Second part (5th Level, Self-actualization) are the Growth Needs, which achievement increases the Motivation after the need is met. This is everything which will make us better, more skillful and fluent. Achieving better results, creating better solutions and innovating will motivate us.

Additionally, according the “Overjustification” phenomenon, an external “push” like promising big pile of money will actually make us be less creative and less happy.

Overjustification effect

The overjustification effect is a phenomenon: Being rewarded for doing something you really love to do, actually transforms it into something you don’t like. It stops bringing you the pleasure and joy and even becomes frustrating and painful for you.

Psychologists Mark R. Lepper and David Greene from Stanford and the University of Michigan ran the following experiment:

Fifty-one preschoolers aged between 3 and 4 were selected for the study. They all liked, even loved drawing.  Lepper and Greene wanted to see what effect rewards would have.

The children were then randomly grouped into 3 groups:

  1. Expected reward. Children would get a prize if they finish a big drawing task.
  2. Surprise reward. Children would receive the same reward as above but, weren’t told about it.
  3. No reward. The children expected no reward, and didn’t receive one.

In the next few days the children were watched if they would spontaneously draw.  The result was that the children which expected reward were much less interested in doing their favourite activity.


Unequality is a very strong demotivator, it’s one of the biggest reasons of the problems most IT companies have, in order to keep their employees.

Let’s explain it with an example:

A Java programmer with two years of experience is working on a web project for an IT company. This lady has friends, who also have two years of experience, working on Web projects for other IT company and her friends are receiving 20-30% higher salary. 

This is one big demotivator, which will make this programmer even angry to her employer. It doesn’t matter if her salary is enough for her or not.
People are not logical or rational, people are emotional! People always compare themselves with the others. 

Companies can not ignore this and always should try compete with the competition in the salary rates.
Of course, there will be always companies which can not afford what the others can. If they are not that far they still can compensate with other “internal motivators”. But you can not expect that if you give much less than the average salary rates in the domain you can keep your people.

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

There are tons of scientific proves that these three can make people love what they are doing. Focusing on them is the pure must for every company, which want to take the maximum of its knowledge workers.

Autonomy is making someone empowered to take initiative. You have to give your people the authority to make decisions, to experiment, even to fail. Inside of the company constraints everyone needs autonomy and authority to be creative. Hire specialists and professionals and give them the floor to make decisions, to create and drive own solutions.

RSA ANIMATE: Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us

Mastery: The feeling of getting better and stronger in what you do. This can be a very strong opiate that can make people proud of themselves. The opposite, it is very common to see people being demotivated or willing to quit just because they don’t see progress and their work is mainly routine. Sometimes these people get used to the status quo and can spend lots of years just doing the same boring job.

Purpose: Understanding why and what is the big goal. Knowing how the work we do affects the big picture is a key to make people really buy in. If one realizes she works for a higher purpose, like saving people’s lives or sending people in the space, you can expect high motivation and enthusiasm.

Intrinsic Motivators

Intrinsic motivators are those that makes us go and play football in the weekend, those that make our children draw and play music instruments just for fun, those that make us play a computer game all night sacrificing sleep, friends and work.

Autonomy, mastery and purpose are Intrinsic Motivators, but there are much more out there. Jurgen Appelo has a great set of intrinsic motivators which can affect in different manner different personality types: “Curiosity, Mastery, Honor, Acceptance, Power, Freedom, Relatedness, Order, Goal and Status”
It is very important to take into an account everyone’s uniqueness and to understand that people are different and motivating them needs unique approach for everyone. It is totally fine to have people valuing higher Order and Power and other valuing more Freedom and Curiosity.

Gratitude is True Intrinsic Motivation, Send a Kudo Today!

Of course, it’s not possible for the top management to understand everyone’s unique set of intrinsic motivators and it is not necessary. Showing empathy and building people-centric culture is enough to create the environment, where everyone can bring their whole selves to work and will feel safe they will not be judged for being themselves.

Christmas Bonuses

The Christmas or End-of-Year Bonuses are the big topic and pain for many companies and their employees. Are they something good or bad? Should we have them and how do we feel if don’t have them? What is enough as amount?

Christmas bonuses or End-of-year bonuses for performance are extrinsic motivator, which means they actually demotivate us. It is proven – performance based bonuses are not motivating anyone! Even worse if they are explicitly related to personal performance they cause competition and bringing the personal interest above the common one.

On the other hand, if most other companies arround give Christmas bonuses and your company doesn’t, we will get the Inequality problem. Our employees and co-workers will feel like they are treated unfearly. So it means it’s better to have bonuses…

So, how to solve this puzzle?The only sure thing is bonuses should not be based on people’s performance. It’s better if they are unexpected and to not evolve into useless competition. They should be based on collaboration, creativity and peer feedback. OKR’s are a good option for bonuses to be calculated by a clear formula formed by the group’s key results. Merit money are one option to distribute the bonus among the team mates.  (https://management30.com/practice/merit-money/)

Coming soon: Environment and Phsychological safety

In the following blog post we will cover the main aspects of the process of building a true environment for learning, thinking and failing to succeed.

What do you think?
What challenges have you experienced?
Leave your thoughts as comments below.

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Course Start 4th August 2020

About the Authors

Nikola Bogdanov Agile Coach

Nikola Bogdanov

Agile Coach

Nikola is an Agile enthusiast with deep interests in people, team and organizational facilitation and coaching. He has rich experience as Agile coach, Scrum master and Agile leader in big and small organizations.

It’s easy to say, Agile is in his DNA

Bogoy Bogdanov Agile Coach

Bogoy Bogdanov

Agile Coach

Bogoy is an experienced Agile Coach, speaker and trainer. He enjoys helping companies, teams and individuals grow continuously and at a sustanable pace. His courses and talks are inspiring to professionals who want to learn from the best.

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