Motivating An Agile Team

Someone approached me the other day for some coaching advice. It seems that they’re in a Coach / Scrum Master role and have a Agile team that, well, isn’t doing very well.

They’re pushing back on the use of agile approaches—seeming to be going through the motions of Scrum. They’re not delivering much in the way of value. And, to use his words, they’re simply not motivated. Which was his question—

How do I motivate this team?

Certainly, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this question and it certainly won’t be the last. My first thought though was—you don’t motivate a team; they have to motivate themselves. But, as I answered the question, I thought of the following as a Motivation Continuum for today’s teams—

First, There Were “Carrots & Sticks”

You know how this goes. You motivate with rewards for “good work” and penalties for “bad work”. The hope here is that the “Carrots” outweigh the sticks and the team is motivated. It’s what Dan Pink refers to as Type X behavior or extrinsic motivation.

Next, A Focus On Intrinsic Motivation

Dan Pink explored this in his TedX talk and subsequent book. Here we try to – give people control over their work (autonomy), provide opportunities for challenge (mastery), and align their work to something meaningful (purpose). He refers to this as Type I or intrinsic motivation.

This is much more powerful in that it connects the individual to the motivation. Consider it an inside-out approach.


Finally, Creating The Conditions For Motivation

Beyond, extrinsic versus intrinsic, my mind goes to how leaders (leader roles, Scrum Masters, and Coaches) influence without doing anything to the individual. I guess what I’m saying is how we show up can create a motivational ecosystem for the team. One that encourages. Inspires, and motivates teams to do great things.

The mindset shift moves from doing something to a team or individuals in order for them to be motivated to creating the space for them to naturally become motivated.

Now, how can you create the conditions for being motivated? For example—

  • You can inspire them by your own actions; walking your own talk, principles, and ethics.

  • You can encourage them by being mindful of the challenges that they’re encountering in the world right now. By staying present and meeting everyone where they are.

  • You can energize them by giving them meaningful and valuable work to do. Valuable for your clients, your business, and for them personally.

  • You can give them confidence by ensuring they have the skills to do what you’ve asked them to do.

  • You can ensure there is sufficient safety for them to experiment, learn, and grow. To be able to challenge the status quo, speak truth to power, and show vulnerability.

  • You can help to align them towards being a well-rounded, x-functional, healthy, and diverse teams.

  • You can give them space for creatively and innovatively solving their/your customer problems.

Are a few that come to mind. I hope that you’re getting a sense of the actions that can be taken to create the ecosystem I’m envisioning.


Showing Up

I wanted to explore another aspect of creating space for teams to be motivated. Properly showing up can be a challenge for a leader. That is, showing up each and every day with the energy, positivity, attitude, and passion that becomes infectious with your teams and across your organization. But it’s one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal for motivating your teams.

I couched it under walking your talk, but that overused phrase does it a disservice.

One of the keys I’ve found is becoming more intentional with how you enter spaces. For example, each morning before you enter the day, get quiet and envision how you will be entering your organization. Very intentionally.

Ask yourself, what do the organization and my teams need from me today? Then quietly center and put on the meta-skills to deliver that need to the team. If they’ve been flat, enter with passion and energy. If they’ve been struggling to solve a problem, enter with curiosity and perseverance.  If they’ve been running too fast, enter with calmness and thoughtfulness. If they’re struggling in this Covid-19 world, enter with empathy and understanding.

Wrapping Up

I hope I’ve motivated you to reconsider motivation and the shared responsibility that all of us have in setting the conditions to be motivated.

I’d encourage you to run some experiments in your own Agile team with some of the ideas I’ve shared. Don’t take my word for it, but check it out for yourself. I’ll bet that coach I mentioned, in the beginning, would start to see a change in their teams and you might as well.

Stay agile my friends,

Bob Galen.


About the Author

Bob Galen is an agile practitioner, trainer & coach based in Cary, NC. In this role, he helps guide companies and teams in their pragmatic adoption and organizational shift towards Scrum and other agile methodologies and practices. He is a Principal Agile Coach at Vaco Agile, a leading business agility transformation company. He is also President and Head Coach at RGCG a boutique agile coaching firm. Bob regularly speaks at international conferences and professional groups on topics related to software development, project management, software testing, and team leadership.


This is a syndicated blog post as part of our Deep Dive Week – Agile Edition. Thank you to Bob for contributing this agile blog from

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