Definition of a Great Team


This post is the seventh part of a ramble-rant about the software business. The current posts in this series are:

A Workplace Hierarchy


I borrow heavily from a Maslow-vian (is this a word?) approach. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs has been applied (and mis-applied) before. Someone has probably already made this connection for teams in the workplace. If so, cool! I haven’t seen it – this my pass at applying it to teams.

The way the hierarchy works is: The lower stuff are basic necessities. In the Human Needs version, this tier is reserved for Physiological needs. The second tier of the Human Needs version is Safety. Each tier is dependent on the tier beneath it. In 1943, Maslow proposed that a human being is motivated by these needs in this order. If your physiological needs are unmet, you will instinctively concentrate on this and ignore all else. If all physiological needs are met and you are unsafe (or feel unsafe), you will concentrate on becoming safe. And so it goes, up the Human Needs pyramid from Physiological, through Safety, Love / Belonging, Esteem, and Sefl-actualization.

I correlate the five tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs to five tiers of the workplace for a team:

  • Physiological –> Compensation
  • Safety –> Job Security
  • Love / Belonging –> Esprit de Corps
  • Esteem –> Organizational Respect
  • Self-Actualization –> A Kick-Butt Team

Let’s drill into these a little deeper…


At the bottom of the employee pyramid is compensation. When I’m talking to people above the Director level, I throw in “This means money. In their paycheck. Regularly.” Some incentive plans can backfire with people who use exotic math (and by exotic, I mean long division): “I get paid $42.50/hour for each hour in a 40-hour week. I do 100 hours above that, and I got $2.50 for each of those 100 hours.” Mind you, it’s something – and that beats nothing, especially when there’s no 401k matching or raises.

Some people will argue compensation is not all it’s cracked up to be. They’re right, to a point. If you have a Crappy Job, no amount (well, no reasonable amount) of money is really worth it. But money is like other things – oxygen, for example: It’s not really a problem until you’re not getting enough. Be wary of applying business school logic to geeks (more on this later).

Job Security

Over money there’s job security. This is more than “Can the company survive without me?” If you’re relying on that kind of job security, I have some bad news: The company can survive without you. It may cost them money and time, and the company may even rue the day they let you walk out the door, but they will survive. Other stuff plays into this: “Does what I do matter?” Does your work count? More than that; is your manager letting you know how your work matters?

Esprit de Corps

Next up is cohesion within the team. Do we share a sense of mission? Is there a vision? Goal? End date? “Are we all rowing together?” to take an example from the article: The No-Cost Way to Motivate by Patrick Lencioni. This is where esprit de corps starts. We all hang together, or we hang separately – that sort of thing.

Organizational Respect

On that, there’s the respect of other teams. Do they know what we’re doing and why? They know we’re holding them up or badgering them for answers, do they understand why? Are we being professional as a team in our interactions with other teams? Are we communicating as a unit? A lot of this derives from (and to) J. Ello’s article: (warning: ComputerWorld link. Check your popup blocker before proceeding…) The Unspoken Truth About Managing Geeks. If Job Security – and by implication, Compensation – are satisfied then monetary bonus incentives work here.

A Kick-Butt Team

Take care of all that and nature will take its course. You’re stuck with a self-actualized team that you can throw at just about any problem and watch them solve it. And they grew organically. They’re in “bring it” mode. They crave challenges and hold friendly competitions to innovate the best solutions. They laugh a lot. They’re “characters.” If we’re lucky, we have an island of Alphas (borrowing from Orwell now… I’m ripping off everyone today) that actually works.


There are several implications to managing in this way. One is: If team members do not perceive they’re receiving adequate compensation, their priority will be to satisfy this need. Perception is reality – especially in this context. And it’s the perception of the team member; not the manager.

It’s easy for a traditional manager to confuse the motives of a geek based on behavior. This is a serious issue for IT managers with business school educations (MBAs). J. Ello’s article is a masterpiece. It’s worth battling the advernoise (I made up that word) popups at It describes precisely how geeks behave and why (based on my observations and experiences… but I’ve only been coding 35 years…). Based on those same observations and experiences, no one is teaching this in business school. And that’s a shame.

Treat your team well, then watch them grow!

:{> Andy

Andy Leonard

Christian, husband, dad, grandpa, Data Philosopher, Data Engineer, Azure Data Factory, SSIS guy, and farmer. I was cloud before cloud was cool. :{>

5 thoughts on “Definition of a Great Team

  1. Good post as always, Andy.
    So much of Corporate IT resembles Dilbert.
    Your ideas are a guide on doing IT right.
    You should write a book.

  2. Andy, you’re nailing it with this series, this post especially is spot on. Too bad no one in mgmt would understand why reading blog posts is important, so it wont likely get as much attention in the IT leadership world as it should.  Maybe Chuck is right, you should write a book about this, then maybe It’ll get the exposure it needs.

  3. Andy, its good post and i agree with you. I personally feel that compensation and appreciation to the work is very imporant to from individual point of view.

  4. Thanks Chuck, Allen, Vijaya, and Ben!
     I’m trying to convince my mentor to write a book on this topic…
    :{> Andy

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