Motivation and Teams

Motivation is a management technique, which is closely associated with leadership . Is motivation primarily an internal (or intrinsic) capability that an individual brings to the job or is it the responsibility of management and the organisation to provide a motivating environment (i.e. external, or extrinsic motivation)? Because employees' values and beliefs are not the same, they will respond differently to the motivating (or demotivating) features of an organisation. Different theories of motivation give insights into this complex psychological process and we will briefly discuss three major types of motivation theories: content theories, process theories and reinforcement theories.

Content theorists assume that an effort or behaviour results from an unsatisfied need (either an individual or group need). Individuals generally act or behave in ways that will lead to the satisfaction of their needs. This is certainly the basis for Abraham Maslow's (1943) hierarchy of needs. Clayton Alderfer's (1972) ERG (existence–relatedness–growth) theory condenses Maslow's five needs into three broader categories and alters Maslow's progression principle to: existence, relatedness and growth. Another content theory of motivation is David McClelland's (1961) acquired needs theory which identifies three types of needs: affiliation, achievement, power. Frederick Herzberg's (1987) two-factor theory also offers insight in to what motivates workers. The theory points out the importance of both job content (satisfiers or motivators) and job context factors (dissatisfiers or, as Hitt et al. call them 'hygiene factors') in motivating employees.

The equity, expectancy and goal setting theories are all process theories of motivation. These theories focus on how employees make choices regarding their work behaviours, based on their individual preferences, the available rewards and possible work outcomes. Adam's equity theory recognises that social comparisons take place when rewards are distributed in the workplace. When employees believe that they have been inequitably treated in comparison to others, they will try to eliminate the discomfort and restore a sense of equity to the situation. Vroom's expectancy theory (1964) suggests that individuals' motivation depends on their perceptions about whether they can perform a task, whether their performance will be rewarded and whether the reward will be commensurate with the effort expended.

Porter and Lawler (1968) further developed this theory into the expanded expectancy theory model. According to this model, the value of expected reward combines with an employee's perception of efforts required for the reward and the probability of achieving it to produce a certain level of effort. The way in which the employee performs the task yields a specific performance level. The level of performance leads to intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. The employee will have his/her own perception about the appropriateness of the rewards received and the individual level of satisfaction will depend upon this perception. The individual's experience will then be applied to his/her subsequent perception of the value of rewards for further task accomplishment.

By comparison, goal setting theory focuses on how employees set and strive to achieve goals?emphasising the motivational power of goals. Employees tend to be highly motivated when task goals are specific rather than ambiguous, difficult but achievable (stretch goals are the most common example of this) and set through participatory means.

Reinforcement theory recognises that human behaviour is influenced by its environmental consequences and is based on Thorndike's (1911) Law of Effect which states that behaviour followed by a pleasant consequence is likely to be repeated. One of the approaches to reinforcement motivation is referred to as operant conditioning which was popularised by Skinner (1948), a psychologist. Operant conditioning is 'the control of behaviour by manipulating its consequences'. Research by Luthans and Kreitner (1975) confirmed that operant conditioning techniques can influence employee behaviour. Hitt et al. (pages 434–437) describes four reinforcement strategies: positive reinforcements, negative reinforcements, punishments and extinction.

Empowering staff can be a powerful motivator, especially when combined with the formation of teams who can make important decisions. Empowerment is a sensible approach to take with professionals who are capable of taking responsibility and making decisions, but it is more difficult to implement when dealing with unskilled workers. In spite of the theories, there is a place for fear as a motivation tool. Fear of reprimand, fear of losing one's job and fear of missing out on promotion are all effective motivators [ahh, wage-slavery]. Some managers find intimidation a potent tool, but it does require a certain type of personality.

Remuneration is an attractive motivation technique for organisations. Complex psychologically and sociologically based theories are difficult to implement in practice and require a set of skills which are otherwise of little use to the organisation. On the other hand, organisations usually possess reasonably well-developed remuneration systems and capabilities which can be easily adjusted to motivate employees.

It is a much more difficult task to motivate a team. Individual efforts are not obvious—it is the team performance that is visible. Without the right motivation—the personal responsibility for goals—the group is not a team at all; so motivation is the key to forming and maintaining teams. In Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the middle category of need is 'belonging'—and being part of a good team satisfies this need more effectively than any other organisational arrangements.

Informal groups can also develop within the formal structure of the organisation. An informal group emerges from relationships and shared interests among organisation members. An interesting phenomenon associated with informal groups is that they tend to be quite effective and make minimal resource demands on the organisation in the short term. Unfortunately, it is difficult to sustain informal groups in the long term.

Committees and task forces are used to facilitate operations and allow special projects to be completed. Committees tend to be set up for the long-term and deal with issues that are on-going (such as customer complaints or strategic planning). Task forces tend to be established to deal with a specific problem or opportunity, usually with a degree of urgency. Cross-functional teams bring members together from different departments and help improve lateral relations and integration in organisations. Members of cross-functional teams are expected to share information, explore new ideas, seek creative solutions, meet project deadlines and not be limited in performance by purely functional concerns and demands.

The effective implementation of self-managing teams can require enormous preparation including company-wide training, the employment of appropriate staff and a substantial restructuring of the lines of responsibility and information channels within the organisation. Self-managed teams cannot be implemented on an ad hoc basis and, at the very least, need to be used exclusively within a bounded region, such as a division.

An effective team achieves high levels of task performance as well as membership satisfaction. The way members of any team actually work together as they transform inputs into outputs is called the group process. Group process is essential to team effectiveness. Four group input factors that can influence the group process and consequent team effectiveness are: nature of task, organisational setting, team size, membership characteristics. Norms are expected behaviour to be followed by the team members. Team members must recognise that the behaviour is expected for group membership. The performance norm, which defines quality and quantity standards, is important since it can have positive or negative implications for organisational productivity. In highly cohesive teams, members tend to conform to norms. Teams with positive norms and high level of cohesion are usually very effective.

Two types of activities that are essential for team members to work together effectively are task activities and maintenance activities. A task activity is an action taken by team member that directly contributes to the group's performance purpose and a maintenance activity is an action taken by a team member that supports the emotional life of the group. It is essential that both types of activities are shared and distributed among all team members. This function is described as distributed leadership and is important for the long-term effectiveness of the team.

Most teams pass through a normal life cycle involving initiation, development, maturity and termination. It is commonly accepted that there are five stages of team development; forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning. As Hitt et al. says (page 472), these five stages do not apply automatically to all teams, but they are a good guide to the operations of most teams. The most important stage is the norming or consolidation stage, without which the team's outputs are unlikely to be of benefit to the organisation.

A manager needs to master three roles. First, he/she needs to be an effective member of a team. The second role that a manager has to master is that of leading a team. The manager or leader of a team has a particular responsibility to provide strong and principled leadership. Team leaders must be particularly focused on: team goals, the tasks to be performed, the results to be achieved (McKew, 2001), the structure and operation of the team, the commitment of the team members, and the level of collaboration and team norms.