Digitally Tailored

Motivating a Development Team

Earlier today, I found myself conversing about the strategies I use to motivate a development team. We were both pushed for time, leading me to deliver a perhaps generic answer, underscoring the pivotal role of communication and approachability. It’s paramount to dedicate time to perceive both the issues at hand and the personal ambitions of developers. These might not always coincide with their work, but gaining insight into these elements is crucial for each team member.

Beyond this, other tactics are part of my approach.

Small Wins Contribute to the Big Picture

Consider a sales representative who invests two weeks into closing a sale. Usually, it either fizzles out or transforms into a sale. Celebrations might ensue – a ringing bell, shared drinks, and possibly a commission in the offing. Conversely, a developer who puts in similar efforts might merely receive an automated email confirming the merging of their code.

At my former workplace, we instituted a plan where every team lead and manager would convene at the week’s end to discuss their team’s achievements. This initiative started with the idea of raising company-wide awareness of the work being accomplished across different teams. However, it morphed into something more significant. All of a sudden, the laborious tasks our junior developers had been investing their energies into, which seemed to have no immediate business impact, were being acknowledged by everyone. We made sure to accentuate the positives and explain why these efforts were so important. The joy within the development team was palpable when the entire company rallied behind their hard work. A surprising outcome of this was the sales team beginning to discuss topics like ‘optimized deployments’ and dashboard rebuilds underway. Suddenly, they had new tools to differentiate our offering from an ordinary CRM platform – showcasing our continuous development. This could be broadly classified as ‘celebrating small wins’ and ‘communication’, but now you have a tangible strategy that is replicable.

We’re a Team, Not a Family

A few years back, the trend of referring to a team as a family became popular, and it still lingers in some job descriptions. The underlying sentiment was to project unity, support, and camaraderie transcending mere friendship. Some argue that this analogy may foster tribal behavior, with underperformers being sidelined instead of supported. But my concern rests on the hesitation that may surface when considering the dismissal of a team member due to subpar performance, if we were to think of ourselves as a family. This notion doesn’t align with the realistic operations of a business striving for survival and can quickly alienate those who take it literally. For those unfazed by this concept, it likely appears as a clich√©. We’re not just a group of individuals, yet we’re not a family – we’re a team. We comprehend our roles and understand our teammates’ responsibilities. An exemplary ‘team player’ steps in to assist when necessary, and an exceptional team manager recognizes and emulates this behavior.

Autonomy: The Secret Ingredient

Many people, freelancers included, believe they can work autonomously, but the true essence and advantages of autonomy within a team are often misunderstood. Autonomy in a team context implies a team member capable of working independently while still contributing effectively to the team dynamics.

An autonomous team member can manage tasks, make pivotal decisions, and solve problems without constant guidance or supervision. This trait not only showcases their competence but also their dedication to the team’s objectives. They will need less support and affirmation and will instead be able to grasp the requirements and restrictions of a project, devise their own strategies, and proceed accordingly. This doesn’t imply isolation or a lack of collaboration. Instead, it means they can independently steer their way through their tasks while actively engaging with the team, seeking help when needed, and contributing to shared goals.

While some might argue that traditional management styles are sufficient for a team, I am a firm believer in the power of autonomy. By fostering autonomy, we create a culture centered on trust. This empowers our team members to take ownership of their roles, enhances their problem-solving skills, and ultimately drives productivity and innovation within the team.

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