Creating Obedient Teams

So if you read my other posts, you now know I have two daughters. My almost four-year-old is suffering from new sister syndrome. Not only has she regressed on things like potty training (she’s been in underwear since 18 months but suddenly wants diapers like her sister) but she has apparently developed hearing and focus disorders. She’s no longer reliable at completing assigned tasks, tends to push back when asked to do things, and has the developed the ability to ignore duties assigned to her altogether. Quite frankly, she reminds me of a lead developer I had on a project about a decade ago. He believed that everything I needed as a project manager was meaningless paperwork and tedium, so he developed the same type of attitude as my four-year-old. As I work on ways to motivate, influence, persuade, and inspire my four-year-old to cooperate, it makes me wonder if the same techniques could have been applied as successfully to that 40 year old programmer. I think that some could work.

Motivation Technique: Stickers
Okay, so why do stickers motivate kids to do almost anything? I think it’s because they get a chance to show off their sticker to peers and basically brag about how good they are without having to actually speak those words. Pride is something that we learn pretty early on. No kid wants to be the one that the teacher calls aside to talk to or worse yet sends to the principal’s office. Kids want to be praised, selected to be line leader, and be told that they are really helpful. Not too different than team members (okay, maybe being line leader isn’t exciting for adults, but leading a team is a challenge and honor for most of us).

I think a sticker reward system could work for teams. If team members had a way to recognize each other for going above and beyond in a public manner, it could help encourage healthy competition and cooperation. Awarding stickers at the start of each weekly status meeting may seem silly way to honor someone in front of the team for their hard work, but not when considered as a general concept. Verbal recognition of an employee’s excellent work, something truly above and beyond the norm, will stick with the team.

Motivation Technique: Responsibility Chart
My four year old has a wooden responsibility chart that she loves. Every night before bed she wants to look at the chart and put stars next to anything she accomplished. It’s a great way to reinforce routine and good behavior, and there’s no reason that a system like this couldn’t be used for a team.

You could set up a responsibility chart (related to project management responsibilities not project responsibilities) and each week give stars to team members who participate in certain activities. Responsibilities could include things like submitting a status report, participating in discussions, attending meetings, or identifying additional risk (this might be a two star reward!). If a team member fills the chart he could earn a reward of some sort—much like the rewards I give my daughter. These don’t have to be big (I actually found that dollar store rewards work for adults and kids alike).

Motivation Technique: Time Out
Man, wouldn’t it be nice if you could send a team member to the corner and tell them to face the wall and not to move, talk, or whine anymore? Oh yeah, and they have to stay there for a minute per year of age (my 40 year old programmer would be there for 40 minutes of peace and quiet for me!!!). I think that this type of punishment isn’t legal in the workforce, but it does sound nice. There is something to be learned and used from timeouts however. If you have a team member who is particularly opinionated, combative, or uncooperative (let’s call them the steamroller), you can put them in a virtual time out. Consider first one-on-one discussions with them and then structure the meetings so that only one person can have the floor — and if the person who has the floor is interrupted by the steamroller you need to publicly ask the steamroller to be quiet as someone else has the floor. This type of timeout can help them realize what they are doing and perhaps assist in changing their behavior.

So I’m going to sign off now to head to the dollar store for some team motivation rewards. I’m investing heavily in stickers and goofy rewards that I know fit my team personalities — amazing how entertaining silly putty, whoopee cushions, and glow in the dark necklaces can be to an adult crowd!

In this article

Join the Conversation