How to motivate team members to deliver more than 100%? Is striking a chord the answer?

The other day, I was talking to one expert consultant, dealing on organizational  behavior, about keeping team members  motivated and he was trying to establish the point that there could not be anything as delivering more than 100% . According to him, it was a misrepresented term and management uses it loosely without really pondering on it. He was not very hesitant to ridicule the concept considering the mathematical significance of the term. I, albeit politely, took him aside and narrated the following incident over a drink.

A project 1 was running under a project manager and things were going as expected. The project involved a transformation initiative where a system needs to be re-architected, designed and implemented. There was quite a bit of complexity involved and everyone was delivering to the fullest for 5 days a week in accordance to the plan. We can safely say that the team is fully utilized and team members are delivering 100% of their ability in the context of the project.

One fine beautifully sunny Saturday morning, a production support issue occurred in the same account but in a different project 2. The dedicated team for the support project was not able to handle -considerable deliberation on the issue already done. One of the senior engineers from the project 1 team could add considerable value on the issue and the delivery manager decided to request his support. The person requested to could well refuse to extend the required support making some excuses. Here was the point the management was expecting more than 100% from the identified person, going beyond his set boundaries in the context of his work.

The consultant seemed to see the point through, considering the criticality of the situation, and agreed to support the project, in turn the account.

As stated earlier, the senior engineer could have easily avoided the request without any apparent performance issue affecting him as he was a star performer, continuously excelling, in his currently assigned project. But he agreed. The reason being the request was from his manager who had touched a chord with him over a period of time. He was ready to go that extra mile, a stretch of few extra hours, –even if it called for rescheduling his own schedules until there was something unavoidable.

From my own experience of managing teams across different delivery functions, I have often seen that establishing connects of mutual trust -crossing the formal boundaries, often help. It does not mean that I was and am able to solve all their professional challenges or career aspirations but I was being candid, transparent and open in dealing with them. Transparency matters.

As part of mandatory Human Resource driven programs, all the teams undergo different bonding events. While those activities do matter and go a long way in gelling in a group, my point is one step ahead. Here I am stressing on walking an extra yard by the managers for their team members, giving some patient and sincere time to them. The quality time worth spending, trying to understand their side of the story and being conscious and part of them, help in turn creating a bond. It involves sincerity and transparency in communication and behavior. Giving the right kind of advice at the right time -in the context of market situation, technological advancements, and opportunities; do create a relationship based on mutual trust and faith in the minds of the team members. They start believing in you, see you as mentor and would want to reciprocate in a similar way by doing something different. It does not indicate to be easy on them and should not be construed as being partial to select few. It is more of creating the bond of mutual respect and connect which touch them at the core- the underlying theme that can propel a team to excel from mere performers. Winning the heart and mind of the team is seen as one of the most critical factor for a harmonized group to deliver.

A mentor to the team, in the true spirit of the term, often helps to create a congenial working environment and that special bond. From my personal experience and feedback received, the little success I could achieve as a mentor, not only from technical point of view but also from an overall personal growth perspective have gone a long way. Guiding my team members in a transparent way rather than giving politically correct answers like “I will look into it” and doing nothing affect negatively in forging a successful bonding. Gone are the days that people would believe in the insincere and casual statements like that. They hurt and break down the basic fabric of collaboration to a great extent. It automatically shows its ugly face outside of the team as well spreading a negative vibes all around.

People have heard enough of the false promises made and appreciate being upfront with the right message much before they hear it from an outsider so that appropriate and timely planning can be actioned. It is the matter of one’s aspirations and being successful and can’t be taken lightly.

In this context, it should not be misunderstood that team messaging would be always against management to be in tune with what they would like to hear. It has to bring out the right and just message on either side – positive and negative, in the letter and spirit. The manager should also appropriately percolate organizational constraints and opportunities that might be on offer to remain relevant when compared to external challenges like competitions and challenging business environments.

While it is not possible to deal with each and every member of the team at a personal level, I am not indicating to take that path at all. In fact, in my mind, that might sometime confuse team members with the communication. Personal interactions often help but segregating personal from professional commitments is equally a must. This aspect should be going out from managers loud and clear.

In the perspective of vendor-customer paradigm, it has been often observed that while all the vendors have more or less equal caliber and capacity, customer would like to make the decision to award the business to that vendor where there is an emotional connect of trust and confidence -on which he can depend on and that vendor would go that extra mile in the hour of crisis. Nowadays, more than technical, it is that aspect of emotional connect that customers are looking for to make a decision. I will discuss this another day in another post.