Acknowledging Work Effort Can Increase Productivity and Motivation

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One rationale for the canonical agile team's being cross-functional and self-organizing is that an agile team is able to work more efficiently. Cross-functional means that there is less likely to be work waiting for the “right person.” Self-organizing means that the team isn’t waiting for direction on what to do and how to do it. Self-organization can have added benefits in terms of motivation, which in turn can have a positive impact on delivery.

In this TED talk, economist Dan Ariely discusses the role of meaning and the importance of acknowledgement in making people feel good about work. He provides examples of experiments that illustrate how simply acknowledging someone’s effort can lead to increased engagement and motivation, resulting in increased productivity. 

Others have discussed the strong relationship between engagement and success and the agile values of commitment and feedback, which can help reenforce engagement and create a positive feedback loop that can contribute to the team's success.

Feedback and acknowledgement are important, but feedback drives motivation only if it’s close to the time of the work. Don’t confuse performance reviews as a sufficient (or good) form of feedback. In this segment from Talk of the Nation Samuel Culbert discusses why performance reviews generally don’t serve their stated purpose of helping employees be more productive.

Fast Company explains why year-end reviews are a waste of time and why more frequent feedback is better. Esther Derby has some advice on things to avoid if you do annual reviews. As Ariely mentions in his talk, it’s easy to motivate but also very easy to de-motivate.

Feedback is an essential aspect of being on an agile team, both in structured settings such as retrospectives and more ad-hoc situations. Team members as well as managers need to learn how to give feedback.

Self-organization and feedback help agile teams deliver value efficiently, and those practices can add meaning to the work the team is doing. Doing so will lead to a team with increased motivation that will be more productive.

Do you feel like your work is acknowledged? What things can people on your team do to help you feel like your work is more meaningful?

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Steve Berczuk

Steve Berczuk is a Principal Engineer and ScrumMaster at Fitbit in Boston, MA. He is the author of Software Configuration Management Patterns: Effective Teamwork, Practical Integration, and has an M.S. in operations research from Stanford University and an S.B. in Electrical Engineering from MIT.