Hidden motives might be limiting your team’s success
Communication, listening, transparency, psychological safety, and inclusion in decision-making will go a long way in helping you solve this.
If hidden motives exist, you can get everything else right and still fail, or even if your product is successful, your team might be miserable.
Pretext: I've chosen the term "hidden motives" instead of ulterior motives or some other phrasing because I believe hidden motives aren't inherently wrong; motivations are good, but when they're hidden, they can cause a lot of distrust, dysfunction and demoralization (the dreaded three Ds).
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I've experienced, on several occasions, hidden motives within the companies and teams I've worked for. Oddly enough, all of them have had some core value that was antithetical (in direct opposition) to this.
For the purposes of this article, there are three places to find hidden motives:
The individual level (employees, managers, individual c-suite executive)
The Team level (your team vs. another team)
The company level (investors, board, c-suite, regulators, advisors)
Hidden motives aren't inherently wrong. Your job as a leader is not to remove all sense of motivation but to bring hidden motivations to light and use them to your team's advantage while weeding out the negative ones. This is no different than uncovering the true motivations of your users as a UX researcher or Product Manager.
At the individual level, this might be an employee who feels stuck, wants a challenge, and is gunning for a promotion. Not uncovering that motive, or worse, ignoring it, could lead to tension, resentment, and loss of motivation. This can start to have an outward impact on the rest of the team.
At the team level, imagine a team of engineers who love shiny new things and despise legacy code (this might be visible if they're very vocal about it). Do you assign that team maintenance work and legacy code bases, or do you make them the R&D team, having them investigate new solutions? The work you assign them must match their motivations and skills; if you don’t know what motivates them, it’s your job to uncover it.
These hidden motivations may exist within your team or at a company level, which can be even more detrimental. Regardless, this can all result in uncertainty, tension, stalemates and a lack of motivation or direction. At the company level, this could be a company-wide strategic pivot, outwardly viewed as seemingly random decisions, discarding product roadmaps, and making last-minute changes to objectives while communicating that everything is going great thanks to their shiny new partnership.
Are you a Product Manager, scrum master, Engineering Manager, VP, team lead, or individual contributor? You may not feel like you can influence these things, but you can still uncover the hidden intrinsic motivators of your peers. Knowing what’s important to them is invaluable in getting things done.
But how do you do this? In short, fostering a culture of open communication, active listening, transparency, psychological safety, and inclusion in decision-making is essential. All of these things go a long way in helping you avoid hidden motives that could drag your team down.
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