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

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