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Motivation in Teams

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Are laterally guided teams better than those guided by directives? They at least are self-organized, empowered and, in my experience, more motivated. Therefore – yes, I find them better! The path from directive to lateral, however, is sometimes rocky and long – practical experience has shown me one thing above all – there are really good companions on the way there, and these are: clarity and transparency, patience and iteration, as well as appreciation and humor. They turn good teams into really good, cool and motivated teams.


From the hierarchically to the laterally managed team, or: from the normal to the really cool team.

Directive management styles often reveal themselves in details

“Boss, can I have Friday off?” A simple question – for some employees:in many teams however still very difficult. Because this question also determines whether a supervisor either allows this or at least makes it possible. In both cases – the question of permission and the question of whether it can be made possible – hierarchies are evident. And even if the question is asked in a very friendly way and a:e supervisor:r responds in a friendly way, this simple question reveals the hierarchical nature of the relationship between the two.

The problem with this style of leadership is well known to many: too many decisions are made by too few decision-makers

There are many such examples that are characteristic of a more hierarchical or directive style of leadership. And such examples also show the problem of this leadership style: too little initiative, too little personal responsibility. Superiors are often the bottleneck that cannot make decisions fast enough.

Lateral led and self-organized teams act at eye level

A different approach could look like this: “I won’t be there next Friday, my customers are informed and I have already organised the handover with the other team members”. Here a completely different relationship is revealed, namely one at eye level between team member and superior. This kind of appreciative and forward-looking planning is typical for teams with a high degree of self-organisation, in which superiors rely on lateral leadership, empowerment and personal responsibility. Perhaps many readers are now thinking: “Oh, that’s the way it is with me. My employees:inside and I act at eye level”. Hand on heart. Really? It’s often not quite that simple. In my experience, it takes quite some time for both the team and the manager to go through the common path from directive to lateral leadership. Why is that?

The crux with expectations…

First of all there are different expectations. Especially in companies that have been active on the market for a long time and therefore tend to have a hierarchical structure, there are a lot of open and subliminal expectations. Expectations from managers about how employees should take on responsibility or tasks internally.

And expectations of employees that responsibility is handed over to them which they can then fill out in their own way.

Unfortunately none of this is possible! In lateral teams, managers must learn that their employees: inside fill the responsibility in their own way, and employees: inside must learn to grow into or “grab” responsibility. By the way, this is easier said than done.

Teams and superiors grow together into a new understanding of leadership

New and sometimes not fully defined responsibility often create fear. Previously clearly defined roles vanish, the way work is shared in the new org might be ambiguous, not always clear how certain decisions are now made…it is often a step into the unknown for both sides.

However, this is part of self-organized, agile teams – so it is very important to keep your eyes on the road ahead. I don’t want to give a theoretical explanation at this point – there are enough of those and they are really good. I would rather like to show my personal “Best Of” of good companions on this way in a casual way: Clarity and transparency, patience and iteration as well as appreciation and humor.

The good companions: Clarity & Transparency

Clarity and transparency turn often undefined expectations into something tangible, describable and thus achievable. What does a:e manager actually mean by “taking on more responsibility”, and what does a:e employee mean by this? It is really important for both sides to stay in dialogue here, to present their ideas and expectations as well as their fears and concerns about the new cooperation openly and without fear. Only in this way can a led team become a self-leading team, and leading managers become new companions with different roles.

The best friends: Patience & Iteration

For all its clarity and transparency – it does not happen overnight. Patience and iteration help to clear up misunderstandings over time; to understand what both sides need and to get a common understanding of how the new cooperation could and should work. New roles and new responsibilities need practice, new decision making processes have to be established and new tools and processes are needed to live the new processIn agile teams, this is achieved through the very significant retrospective. From my experience, many teams need some time to get used to the retro and the strict rhythm is not always suitable for every team. Nevertheless – an appreciative reflection of processes is an excellent way to learn together. Because exactly this – learn together – is the basis of self-organized teams: everyone gives feedback on an equal footing and works together towards the new goal and defines together how it should be lived

The really important guides: Humor & Appreciation

Laughter is allowed! I go even further – we all should laugh more. Mistakes and misunderstandings happen along the way, which sometimes make everyday work more difficult. In order to deal with the stress, maybe even anger, that comes with it, appreciation and humour are essential. Mistakes rarely happen intentionally or negligently – in most cases due to misunderstandings, overwork and not clearly defined roles. It is important to reflect on this together with the aim of working together more smoothly in the future. But please: without quarrelling, without assigning blame. No joke – even if it is sometimes difficult – laughing together helps, relieves stress and welds together. This is how really cool teams are created. And in cool teams you work better and more efficiently, new ideas develop faster, employees and employers are a better team.


Picture: Unsplash, Thanks to Chang Duong for sharing their work on Unsplash. 

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