Producing Quality Teams through Needs Based Motivational Philosophy


Many of us recall the 1993 movie Schindler’s List. Liam Neeson stars as the CEO who ends the movie in a harrowing scene when he movingly portrays a man full of regret that he couldn’t save even more Jews than he already had during the holocaust by providing jobs for them to perform. Neeson had went well beyond most of his contemporaries to protect the Jewish people from the gas chamber. Although the example is extreme, leaders can improve team member’s performance dramatically by employing Schindler’s real life attitude toward employees when combining it with the pioneering research done by Abraham Maslow.
Applying Maslow’s Needs-based Motivational Theory to Team Members

Typically, leaders seek to produce team members that identify with the team relationally. This produces cohesion on the team and makes for a productive work environment. Leaders also seek employees whose desire includes successfully competing in the marketplace in a way that meets their esteem needs. That way the team member is always seeking to better his performance which in turn also serves the company’s goals as well. The two issues we just discussed, belongingness needs and esteem needs, are actually needs listed in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs depicted in the image above.

Maslow taught that needs are usually met in a sequential order. In the triangle above these sequence reads from left to right and bottom to top in the following sequential order:

I. Security
II. Belongingness
III. Esteem
IV. Self-Actualization

The problem leaders often find themselves struggling with is trying to meet the team members esteem needs without considering security and belongingness needs.

Meeting Lower Order Needs First
In actuality, Maslow’s first need was that an individual must have met their physiological needs met first much like the real life Schindler was providing for the Jews he was harboring. Having omitted that need here for our purposes, Maslow’s first need of the provision of sustenance still serves to illustrate the concept of providing for lower needs first. It would be nonsensical to work with our employees on esteem needs while they haven’t been paid for three weeks and are coming to work hungry.

More practically speaking we often seek the employee’s best effort at the belongingness and esteem needs in the hierarchy before we address his or her need for security. While the employee is insecure about his duties or uncomfortable in his or her relationship with the other team members, we too often seek to employ interventions that are designed to pull the employee into meeting the higher order need of esteem first. By neglecting the lower needs that come before esteem needs we could be employing a strategy that creates a mismatch between the leaders motivation and the team member’s. This often results in a failure to communicate between the team leader and team member and equates to a poor result.

Meeting Security Needs First
By asking questions related to a team member’s comfort level you could assess whether or not the employee feels secure about their job duties or some other aspect related to the work they are doing. A new team member may be anxious about being accepted by the team while an employee with more seniority may be fretting about updating his skills or an upcoming restructuring and needs reassurance. Interventions can then be addressed to meeting these needs with the goal of leading them to the next level in Maslow’s hierarchy, belongingness.

Meeting Belongingness Needs Second
After a foundational base of personal trust has been established within the team member’s situational surroundings as evidenced by a consistent level of self-efficacy, belongingness needs can be assessed. These are basically social needs that represent varying degree of requirements by both the individual and the company. By proactively addressing these issues the leader can go a long way toward preventing struggles between team members that often devour a fair amount of productive time. At the same time the leader is developing an individual on his team to play a stronger role in his position by simply hearing her out and acting as a co-developer with the employee in developing strategies to deal the issues identified.

By helping the individual team member meet the needs of individual security and social belongingness, the team leader builds a much stronger position to address the team member on an ongoing basis to continue improving his or her performance. This stands in stark contrast to building on an otherwise faulty understanding of how to motivate a team member by assuming team member needs match the team leader’s.


Sandri, G., & Bowen, R. (2011). Meeting employee requirements: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is still a reliable guide to motivating staff. Industrial Engineer, 43(10), 44048. Retrieved from

Schindler’s list. (n.d.). In IMDb. Retrieved October 27, 2012, from

Matching Leadership Behaviours and Team Development



(Photo Credit : MC Mathew on GoPro by Stereovision India)


It’s hard to overestimate the impact team leaders have on their group. Not only are the team leaders responsible for running day-to-day operations that support the team, they must also facilitate the team’s emotional growth. Within their relational task, leaders are to facilitate functional relationships that promote the attainment of goals in a highly personal and often pressurized environment. To accomplish this feat successfully team leaders must act within the context of their team’s social development and apply management techniques according the stage of development the team finds themselves in.


By reconsidering the stages of group development by Tuckman (1965) alongside the project manager’s behavioral roles by Adams and Anantatmula (2010), this article will help you recognize the four stages of group development as well as the leadership behaviors necessary to apply the right interventions at the right time.

 Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing: An Overview

With practice and experience leaders are able to understand their team member’s behavior and tailor their interventions to individual situations. What is more difficult is adding another layer of analysis by managing the team member within the context of the group’s developmental stage. By understanding the stages below you will be one step closer to promoting behaviors of team members that better serve the team as a whole.

Forming is the first stage of Tuckman’s, (1965) model typified by polite conversation and low trust. The group also makes decisions about whether to accept or reject potential leaders who display negative behaviors. This is also known as the testing stage where foundations are being laid as to how the group will operate emotionally. This process leads into the storming stage.

The storming stage is marked by emerging leaders struggling for control while team members struggle with the ensuing conflicts. In the process, alliances will form that serve as a critical part of the group’s ongoing structure.

The norming stage is where the group begins operating as a team as some form of unity has been achieved during the storming stage.

The performing stage is active when group members are playing healthy roles and interdependently relying on one another to achieve goals. The unit has become more than a sum of its parts and is working at an optima level completing projects and meeting goals.

One of the differences between healthy groups and dysfunctional groups is that the healthy group has been led successfully through these stages. This does not happen by accident but through a contextual understanding of where the team is at developmentally. Then leaders can proceed with effective interventions with the entire team in mind.

Matching Leadership Behaviors With Team Stage

Adams and Anantatmula, (2010) demonstrate that the timing of appropriate interventions is the critical factor to keep teams moving though their developmental stages successfully. Below is a summary of these concepts that you can practice to keep your team advancing toward the performing stage.

During the forming stage the development of the individual group member is the key role of the leader. Expectations are communicated on a one on one basis and healthy boundaries are created. The leader is firm in setting social boundaries and behavioral rules. A highly directive approach is necessary.

The leader addresses negative behaviors during the storming stage that typically result from power struggles. They also watch for members who are withdrawing from the team due the turmoil and keep them actively engaged. Matching social skills with meaningful tasks that are appropriate according to a particular member’s skills is helpful during this stage. A highly directive approach is necessary.

In the norming stage the leader plays more of a support role as they encourage relationships among team members by promoting activities that draw people together. Negative emotions are frowned upon while positive people are rewarded. A supportive approach is the key ingredient here.

In the performing stage a team leader’s role should be more maintenance oriented than anything else. By tracking the team’s performance and keeping missional objectives at the forefront, the team leader can promote creativity and allow the team the freedom to continue developing without a lot of intervention. As the team becomes self-managed a highly supportive stance can be maintained.

By understanding the developmental context of the Tuckman’s four stages, leaders are able to tailor their management skills to not only a particular team member, but also for the team as a whole in a timely way (Adams and Anantatmula, 2010). Framing decisions about interventions within these contexts can prevent the team leader from apply the right interventions at the wrong time.




Adams, S., & Anantatmula, V. (2010). Social and behavioral influences on team process. Project Management Journal, 41(4), 89-98. doi:10.1002/pmj.20192


Tuckman, B. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63(6), 384-399. Retrieved from;url_ctx_fmt=infofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Actx;ctx_enc=info%3Aofi%2Fenc%3AUTF-8;ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004;;s




Managing Motivation in Turbulent Times


Motivation -- that way

In these times of economic uncertainties, keeping employees motivated is a big challenge for both managers and HR professionals. Employee motivation has gained new significance in the current business scenarios of economic recession, layoffs and cost cutting.


In an organizational context, employee motivation can be defined as the desire to accomplish organizational goals through optimal use of efforts and resources at hand. A highly motivated workforce is the biggest asset of an organization. They are perfectly committed to the organizational vision and use their full energy to achieve the same.

A successful manager is one who is able to inspire his team to perform effectively. Managers have to understand that the motivational need of each individual varies and they have to adopt a different approach for creating a fully energized team.


Though there are several motivational theories but for the purpose of our discussion we will focus on two of those – McClelland Theory of Needs and Vroom’s Expectancy Theory. Further reading will help you understand each of these theories and how they are applied in the workplace.

McClelland Theory of Needs states that there are three needs which motivate a person. These are the needs for achievement, affiliation and power. Affiliation is the need to be liked and accepted by the team members. The individuals who need affiliation work best in team with high interpersonal interactions. Achievement is the need to excel and achieve the set goals. The individual with achievement need are motivated by challenging work assignments. They are best to deliver on hard goals which make them struggle to an extent. Power is the desire to be influential and in control of others. Such individuals are best motivated by being given a position where they can lead others.

Vroom’s Expectancy Theory emphasize on outcomes rather than needs of individuals. According to this theory, motivation is linked to efforts and performance. This theory proposes that motivation is based upon three variables – valence, expectancy and instrumentality. Valence is defined as the value an employee attaches to the outcome or rewards of his efforts. These rewards can be either intrinsic or extrinsic.  Extrinsic rewards include money, promotion, appreciation and perks/benefits. Expectancy is defined as the belief of a person whether he will be able to attain the desired performance. Instrumentality is defined as the perception of employees whether they will actually receive the promised rewards. Following are the implications of this theory:

  • Ø The Reward & Recognition (R&R) program should be closely tied to the performance metric
  • Ø Employees should be provided requisite training to enhance their capabilities and skills
  • Ø The R&R program should be perceived as fair and transparent


  1. Monetary benefits and financial gains are believed to be the biggest motivator. However many managers presume it to be the only source of motivation. Monetary benefits should be used as a motivating tool coupled with any of the below techniques to deliver significant results.
  2. Recognition and few words of appreciation have the power to deliver motivation which thousands of dollars might not be able to do.
  3. Constant communication with the team members is a key enabler for driving higher motivation levels. Keeping employees informed about any changes, newer strategies and processes ensures that they feel themselves to be a part of larger group.
  4. Higher engagement levels through one-to-one meetings, individualized feedbacks and shared decision making,  in a team help to make employees appreciate their role in the team and also improve opportunities for peer learning, which can definitely act as a big motivator.
  5. Training and learning opportunities help in keeping employees skills set updated and frequent action on their individual development needs. This certainly leads to more productive and committed workforce
  6. Clear career development plans and visibility on what ones manager has planned for the employee’s career progression makes them to strive for better results and putting in extra efforts. Upward mobility and promotions are more important as compared to financial rewards for some individuals.
  7. Challenging assignments, cross-functional responsibilities and leadership roles have been found to be big motivators for career-oriented people in the organization.


None of the above techniques would be effective if it is driven merely as a HR focus area. Line managers need to work in tandem with HR function to ensure high motivation levels for the team. While the onus for delivering results lies with the employees, providing a stimulating environment is the responsibility of the manager. The line manager needs to observe, assimilate and identify each individual’s sources of motivations and accordingly work towards driving higher motivation levels in the team.  A highly motivated team acts like a fuel to accelerate organization’s growth by ensuring employee retention, enhanced productivity and willingness to go the extra mile.