How to Find Highly Motivated Individuals for Your Agile Team

How do you identify motivated individuals?

Agile Manifesto Principle #5
An agile leader has a critical role in finding motivated individuals to hire, finding motivated individuals already in the company or mentoring individuals into the motivated mindset or even creating an environment where motivated individuals sprout.Finding Motivated Individuals

How does the leader find motivated individuals in the midst of so many skilled and eager software craftsmen?

Interviewing candidates

Throughout my career, I’ve been in a few roles that required interviewing, hiring, and terminating engineering staff. There were some years where I needed to hire 1 or 2 engineers each month to keep pace with the growing backlog.

My team and I came up with a number of different evaluation criteria for hiring and we created a matrix with various skill areas to evaluate candidates. The actual list has about 10 criteria, the sample below shows some of the criteria that are relevant to motivated individuals in an agile environment.

Checklist for Finding Motivated PeopleThe interview matrix enables interviewers to focus on specific topics that the team believes are critical for evaluating candidates.Other questions and topics are not forbidden in interviews, but when decision time arrives, these factors are the pivotal core criteria.

Character of a Motivated Individual

One of the key attributes of a motivated individual is INITIATIVE. Hiring people who will apply creativity and reach outside the box to overcome obstacles is one of my top criteria in picking people for my team.

If you directly ask anyone, “Do you have initiative?” They will answer yes, and you still won’t know squat.

One of the most interesting interviews that I personally had was with Amazon in Seattle, WA. I was interviewing for a Technical Project Manager position, which is both an agile leadership and technical leadership role.

Amazon’s interview method was the most impressive I’ve ever seen and I use it in every interview I conduct.

A typical interview question that I have asked in the past was, “Can you tell me about your latest project?”

The goal of this question is to find out how the candidate communicates and this also enables you to assess their technical background. You can follow-up this question by drilling in deeper as they explain the different components of the system.

Technical communication is NOT exactly what an agile leader needs to assess, so make sure someone on the teams goes there. Agile leaders need to follow the Amazon model.

When Amazon asked me questions, they started with, “Give me an example of a time when you did…”

The give-me-an-example interview style is fantastic to find out the motivational quotient of a person. As an interviewer, you listen to the story they tell and identify how they interacted with other and how they view themselves.

My favorite question when interviewing other agile leaders (e.g. scrum masters or product owners or team leads) is “Can you give me an example of a time when you identified something that needed changing and you were successful at creating the change?”

Based on the response, you can easily determine several things.

  1. Was the changed trivial or critical
  2. Was the change top down (the person had the power to make the change based on the power of their role)
  3. Best case answer to this question is when the person describes a situation in which they influenced people that are part of other organizations or perhaps in the sphere of influence of their peers.

In an interview, if I don’t receive an answer that is similar to #3 above, I will ask a more focused question. “Can you give me an example where you had differing opinions with a peer or a peer organization and you were successful at influencing that person or group?”

The answers to this will actually provide more than just INITIATIVE, but also influencing skills and in this question, I really looking for one of the most important leadership skills on the face of the planet: LISTENING.

Influencing others is not just talking, but it’s listening. Listening skill is an additional article unto itself.

Motivated Individuals in Your Organization

Within your current organization, you already have motivated individuals. In fact, most of your individuals are motivated. So you don’t have to look too hard to find them. It’s likely the environment rather than the individuals is skewing the motivation of an individual.

There are exceptions to this rule. My experience is that < 1% of any organization you walk into falls into the camp of unmotivated.  After dealing with that 1% through mentoring or terminating those individuals, you are left with the 99% who are ready to rock the house.

Environment for motivated individuals

What motivates an individual? This is a topic of numerous books and psychologist and behavior specialist around the world. I’d provide a couple things that I think make a difference. You’ll have a lot of reading to do if you want to get your head around this topic.  One of the best books on this is “Drive”, by Daniel Pink.

I Do Work That Matters

When I speak to my teams I try to provide the context of how their work fits into the organization as a whole and how they are directly impacting the customer’s lives or the business bottom line.

The Team Owns A Lot of Their Process

Pushing the ownership of processes to the self-organizing team is a tricky balance in agile. If you are an agile leader starting from chaos or waterfall development paradigm and the team is totally unfamiliar with the disciplines of an agile organization, you might have to be more directive about how the team should operate.

Depending on how chaotic the environment is, an agile leader might provide some serious re-direction in process to keep a team from falling off the edge of disaster if they are truly going the wrong direction.

In conjunction with that, conducting retrospectives and providing very specific focus areas will enable the team to rapidly improve.

Organizations typically follow the 3rd law of thermodynamics which leaves an organization with less motivation over time unless energy and leadership are poured into the vision, goals, and execution, the state of the organization will nature tend toward chaos.

An example of a specific area of focus might be a team that struggles to create releasable code for all stories in the 2-week sprint. If stories are not being completed in each sprint, design a retrospective to answer that questions. Don’t just have a retrospective that is wide open. Instead, conduct a facilitated and focus session that answers specific questions. The effectiveness of retrospectives for new agile teams will be higher if the topics are narrow. A broad range of topics is overwhelming and will results in re-visiting the same issues sprint after sprint after sprint.

As the team grows their agile muscles, they will be granted more and more ownership.  Teams get more ownership as they develop more confidence and as they earn more trust.  Sometimes you’ll give a team more rope so they can test themselves.  Only the most confident and mature agile leader have the fortitude to let teams fail a little and test their wings. That is the kind of leader I aspire to be and perhaps you do too.

A team can own their process to the degree that they produce consistent value to the customer and the company and they work synergistically with other teams at scale.

What are some of the challenges that you face finding motivated individuals in your organization?  Please leave me a comment or contact me directly.