Having a team of individuals that feels supported by its company means people are more likely to have higher morale, better motivation at work, and be more resilient to things like burnout and stress. Emily Smith, Agile Coach at Naked Insurance, ensures the above by fostering personal connections with her team, encouraging regular engagement between team members and complete transparency, and deliberately steering away from traditional models of hierarchy.
Emily has seen that fully understanding what motivates each individual person on her team can have a great impact on their happiness, motivation, and morale. That’s why she puts deliberate effort into:
- Understanding people on a personal level: What motivates each person to do their best? What leadership and collaboration style does each person respond to?
- Encouraging engagement and transparency: By being consistently visible about your organisation’s core value proposition to a customer, and encouraging everyone to stay involved, you ensure that ‘execution’ and ‘value’ don’t become too distanced from each other.
- Deliberately staying away from hierarchies within the team: Not everyone wants to climb the career ladder. Separating teams by experience and job titles risks making them feel intimidated to speak up - which kills productivity and motivation.
“You have to know them close enough to actually give people that empowerment to move forward. That makes it a lot easier to pick up on what other things are going to motivate this person to work better, and how that differs from someone else,” Emily says.
Here’s how this looks in detail:
Understanding people on a personal level
Emily has a regular and ‘high-touch’ relationship with her development team, which she explains as “managing how they scope their work, making sure that they’re comfortable with the workloads, going through the projects, and checking whether they’re being blocked, or are managing to collaborate on things.” This means she talks to her team a lot, and needs to understand each person on a more personal level in order to help them do their best work.
Different people require different approaches
Through doing this, she’s realised that one particular style of working, and one kind of relationship, doesn’t work across the team. She’s had to learn to understand her team on a more personal level, so that she can adjust the optimal style of working to what person feels most comfortable with.
Developers that are working on things they don’t enjoy simply won’t be motivated to excel.
“For example, one developer might love the idea of getting sucked in to a super complex problem,” she says, “digging into more detail over a number of days, solving it, and having a massive sense of accomplishment over that. Other developers, though, need ‘micro’ satisfaction - something like fixing a button - and feeling a sense of achievement from ‘small wins’.“
With this insight, Emily can manage workflow in a way that lets each person feel achievement in their productivity that fosters a more robust motivation overall.
To do this effectively, Emily uses walks and coffee chats to ease into natural conversations: ”The little things like that make all the difference. That’s when totally non-work related conversations come up, and allow that personal connection to happen.”
Encouraging engagement and transparency
“It’s important that developers feel attached to what the company is doing as a whole. Way too often, the execution becomes so far removed from the value of whatever you’re doing that you can’t expect people to walk home everyday and feel motivated the next day, and the next.”
‘No door’ policy
What has worked really well for her teams is their open plan office, which reduces the number of conversations that have to happen behind closed doors. They have one meeting room, but otherwise all dialogue between teams happens in the general office space, without the culture of ‘on a need-to-know basis’:
“No person should feel like they are being excluded from any strategic conversation, whether its finances or company missions. Everyone plays an important role in the company, and deserves to know.”
‘All hands’ meetings
In addition, they have ‘all hands’ meetings every sprint, and the entire company gets together to talk about every area of the business to create a feeling of building the company together. “You are asked for your opinion, and can share where you are being blocked and where you are doing really well.”
Deliberately staying away from hierarchies within the team
Traditionally, hierarchies help provide a structure for responsibilities to be divided, and for a clear linear progression to “climb” the ladder of one’s career. However, in Emily’s experience, not every developer necessarily wants to go into management.
In her experience, separating teams by seniority and experience only adds to the feeling of separation from the company and its goals. Emily’s found that it blocks people from fully investing in what the company is trying to achieve, because they feel intimidated by “ranks” and also might not have the desire to become a senior, so don’t feel motivated to try.
To mitigate this, Naked Insurance removes the emphasis on experience and job titles: Mentoring happens both ‘up’ and ‘down’, based on a person’s strengths to teach other people in the team, and there’s no formalised ‘line of reporting’ - instead, each person is responsible for their own work.
“The ideal form of leadership, in my mind, isn’t handing-out all the specific motivators that people need to get through the day. It’s more about trusting people to organise themselves. You actually just hand over that trust to your team, and something just clicks in them.”
If Emily is able to look at any individual team member, and have a good idea of what would help them push through a really tough day at work, it means that she’s more empowered to keep her team motivated by being able to spot snags, and support in fixing them.
In turn, this means her team will feel more supported, on an individual level, and have more reason to feel genuinely positive about their productivity and their work in general.