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

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.

Fostering Team Creativity


The fast changing business environment is forcing organizations to continuously evolve and innovate. Cutting costs and lean management are no longer the solution to stay ahead of competition. Something different and fresh is the need of the hour – Fostering Team Creativity. The aim of this article is to provide practical insights into the much desired but lesser known topic of creativity.


Creativity is defined as the ability to generate new ideas that challenge status quo and aid problem solving or open up new possibilities. Team creativity, also known as group or collective creativity, is not just the aggregate sum of individual creativity of the team members but it is a synergized result of their interactions and shared commitments. Individual creativity acts as the raw material which is processed and molded by the team climate into collective creativity.


According to Theodore Levitt, creativity is thinking up new things while innovation is doing new things. Simply put, Creativity = Idea, and, Innovation = Idea + Action.

This means that every creative thought or idea cannot be innovative. Only an idea that can be put to a meaningful use is called innovative. But all successful innovations stem from a creative idea.


Just as both soil and seed play important role in the growth of a plant, similarly, both intra-individual and organizational climate factors influence the creativity levels of the team. Some of the factors that promote creativity are listed below:

  • Competent Team Members: Each individual in the team should have the relevant domain expertise, creative thinking skills and intrinsic task motivation. Therefore when selecting the members for a team one should focus on these qualities. A high-tech engineer in the field of genetics should have technical expertise in gene splicing, using computer simulation and latest technology to conduct research effectively as well as functional knowledge to understand the genetics. This has to be supplemented with cognitive skills that favor exploration of alternatives and taking newer perspectives. The creative thinking skill manifests itself as problem solving, managing ambiguity, perseverance and self-discipline. The engineer might be intrinsically motivated to drive a project of his own interest but would not feel detached for the one given to him by his boss.


  • Inspiring Vision: A simple ambitious objective that is shared by the team helps to outline the spirit and to set the direction. For example 3M’s vision of developing – technology that advance every company, products that enhance every home and innovation that improves life, goes a long way in giving a sustainable purpose to each employee of the organization.


  • Team Conflict: Research studies indicate that moderate level of disagreement among the team members during formative stages of team development enhances the creativity and performance of the team. A moderate degree of cognitive conflict stimulates divergent thinking and brings forth the different perspectives challenging the old ways of doing things.


  • Trust: Each individual should be confident of sharing his ideas and opinions without the fear of being laughed at or criticized by others. This promotes participation in decision making.


  • Idea Time: When there is long list of tasks to be completed each day, it leaves little room to think outside the structured routine. Therefore some relax or quiet time should be given to each member to generate new ideas or critically evaluate the existing ones – answering what we can do better? For example, Google’s ‘Twenty Percent Time program’ encourages its employees to devote 20% of their total work time on any project of personal interest. This has to led to the creation of newer services like Gmail, Orkut and Google News.


  • Risk Taking: The saying ‘No risk, no gains’ holds true to promote creativity. The team leader should let people take calculated risk and fail. Failure should be accepted as part of the process of creativity, learning made and the team should move on. At no point failure should be criticized or punished as that would make people fear taking newer initiatives.


Let us take a step back and understand the way our brain thinks. Physiologically our brain is divided into 2 parts – Left and Right Hemispheres. Left brain is associated with rational and logical method of reasoning; this is called Convergent cognitive skills while right brain relies on intuition or what we call gut-feel to arrive at a solution to the problem; this is called Divergent cognitive skills.

Based on these cognitive skills, Dr. Michael Kirton classified two different dimensions of creativity styles – adaptive and innovative

  • Adaptive Style is dominant on convergent thinking skills. Those with adaptive creativity style, also known as adaptors organize information to look for logical train of ideas to find solution to the problem. They prefer to work in a structured environment and follow carefully planned decision making. Adaptors are disciplined, stable and predictable. They mostly look at finding solutions within the existing framework of assumptions. They are described as ‘doing things better. Their working style is most effective in stable and structured situations.
  • Innovative Style is more dominant on divergent thinking skills. Those with innovative creativity style, also known as innovators seek decision by looking at the problem holistically with more spontaneous or flash decision making. They are more productive in informal work environment with participatory and horizontal hierarchies. They are imaginative and question the assumptions. They focus on radical ways of doing things and cut across boundaries to find a solution. They generally cause chaos in the team and are thus not readily accepted within the team. They are described as ‘doing things differently.’ They are more effective in times when breakthrough changes are required.

Adaptors and Innovators view each other with some amount of skepticism. Adaptors view innovators as unreliable and disruptors while innovators perceive adaptors as bureaucratic and dull. This causes conflict and tensions in the team. But to achieve high level of team creativity both adaptors and innovators are required because idea generation requires innovators and idea evaluation and improvement requires adaptors.

Therefore it is important for teams and managers to use psychological measures to understand their own creativity style as well as that of the others. This helps to determine self awareness and promote inter-personal harmony in the team. Most effective of these measures is Kirton’s Adaptor-Innovator Inventory (KAI) which states that any individual’s cognitive style can be placed on a continuum ranging from adaptive to innovative style. The inventory consists of 32 question statements which are based on three factors – Efficiency (E), Rule/Group Conformity (R/C) and Originality (O) described below:

  • Efficiency refers to attention to details and supportive data set. Adaptors focus on methodical data management to reach solution to the problem whereas innovators enjoy starting from scratch and re-inventing the wheel.
  • Rule/Group Conformity refers to the regard for existing framework of team rules and procedures. Adaptors emphasize on team consensus and cohesion and hence focus on problem solving within the rules. Innovators often break rules to create ideas, with little conformity to the group.
  • Originality refers to the manner in which individuals handle ideas. Adaptors prefer to produce fewer ideas most of which would be useful and actionable. Innovators prefer to produce large number of radical ideas which would be risky to action upon.

The KAI score range from 32 to 160 with a score of 60-90 representing adaptive and 110-140 representing innovative cognitive style. Managers can use this score to build a diverse team with individuals possessing both cognitive styles, adopt different approaches to manage each style and make both work effectively to realize the vision.


In order to drive profits and stay ahead of change, organizations have to encourage creativity. With teamwork being the norm, it is much more important to focus on ways to enhance team creativity rather than looking at creativity at individual levels. In these times of diversity and change, managers are advised to utilize KAI assessment tool to help the team members realize their creativity style, understand differences in creativity tendencies of each other and thus create more collaborative and cohesive teams.