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Teamwork and rewarding

Leadership LeSS - Large-Scale Scrum Teamwork Wisdom

5.10.2022 — We had an intensive Meetup about Teamwork at Flixbus office in Berlin. Here you have the slides and special material about rewarding and intrinsic motivation as discussed.

Teamwork and rewarding
Ari Tikka
Ari TikkaFounding Partner

Thank you for LeSS Berlin Meetup for the invitation and Flixbus for providing the facilities!

We had the positive problem of having material for two days of training, and 1.5 hours of time to discuss the most interesting things. I received a kind invitation to come back for the remaining topics.

Some things I wanted to talk about this time:

  • Framing Teamwork as collaboration and performance instead of looking at a group of 7 ± 2 persons.
  • The essential organizational conditions by Hackman. I was glad that the audience decided to dive into this topic because it defines so much of the success.
  • Group dynamics, because this knowledge is hard to find anywhere else.

Hackman lists Rewarding as an essential condition for Teamwork. It is of course connected with other conditions like Consequential goal, Authorization, and Whole task. This led to a long discussion which I try to capture here.

Rewarding is difficult

Dan pink has a famous and captivating video. It explains well the repeated research finding that rewarding intellectual work makes performance worse.

However, Dan Pink's masterful catchphrase "Mastery, purpose, autonomy", is 33% wrong. The decades of research by Deci et al state "The findings have led to the postulate of three innate psychological needs--competence, autonomy, and relatedness-- which when satisfied yield enhanced self-motivation and mental health and when thwarted lead to diminished motivation and well-being."

We had a brief argument if "Purpose" equals "Relatedness." In his book, Dan Pink explains that Purpose is about finding your purpose. Still, I think it has a dramatic difference if you base your leadership culture on relatedness (intuitively belonging, connection, attachement) or purpose (intuitively goal, achievement, reason). Of course, purpose sells better for business, and leads to another kind of culture. Georg Kohlrieser of INSEAD combines these in this short video: Relatedness is the base for leadership, providing space for employee's Purpose.

Our brain collects the gratification when a goal-based reward is agreed upon. Later when we measure the achievement, no reward is experienced, only neutral or disappointment is possible. More in "Punished By Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars Incentive Plan, A's Praise and other Bribes" by Kohn, Alfie New Edition (2000). close to 5 stars by 500 reviews in Amazon.

According to the book and doctor's dissertation by Robert D. Austin "Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations" always distort behavior and is potentially dangerous. Let's do an easy thought experiment: An employee is measured and rewarded based on three classes of achievements:

  1. It is important, and we can measure it.
  2. It is important, but we can not really measure it.
  3. It is important, but we do not (yet) know it.

What shall we measure? Only 1.

We can assume that the employees are loyal and try to optimize the work honestly. But there will be some people who don't and moments when the pressure becomes high, and the personal incentives win. This is especially harmful with jobs that have the power to decide, but where consequences are difficult to see. This is usually true for management roles, and they often have bigger incentives.

Why then do organizations have incentive plans? Rewarding or compensation is difficult, so the executives follow their instinct, not believing the research. I save the explanations about bureaucratic control for next time.

What is the solution?

Hackman's most delicious condition is Consequential goal. We do something - does it work, is it useful? This will direct the work at every moment. To be useful, it needs to be complemented by empowered front-line teams.

Material and links

And here is the link to the presentation. Also, our web pages Teamwork and Continuous Improvement Culture give a good overview. If you are truly interested, please consider taking our Teamwork Magician training.


Ari Tikka
Founding Partner

Before finding Agile, Ari built software for embedded distributed fault tolerant software for seven years. For the next decade he worked as an organizational therapist with cultural change, teamwork and leadership. Since 2006 he has contributed to LeSS-flavoured Agile transformations including mechanical engineering, market automation, and embedded system development. For the last couple of years Ari had international coaching assignments ranging from teams to board.

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