Team Coaching #1: Taking one for the Team

With a series of articles I’m offering practical guidance to unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers. According to motivational theory, carrot and stick won’t bring more success. Yes, we need enough payment to get money off the table but furthermore, knowledge workers need some space to decide for themselves -autonomy, a path of professional growth –mastery, and clarity about their added value to the whole –purpose. Let’s start at the beginning.



What percentage of your life will you spend at work? Most adults fill about half of their time awake on a form of labour. That is, during human life we spend 20% of our time on earth on work. Only counting our productive years, this would rise to 35%, rising still between 50-60% if we only count our waking hours –calculated with 7-8h of sleep a night, a 39h workweek and an average life of 76y.


What are you producing at work? Well, that is so diverse that Time and OECD just divided the monetary output of a country, GDP, by the average number of hours worked annually by all employed citizens. Zooming in on how companies evaluate their operating efficiency we still see the use of basic monetary output, revenue, divided by the resource costs – be it human or other resources. In this equation, the value of a human being for a company quite naturally amounts to how much value he/she added calculated in monetary production. Your staying at a job therefore generally depends on a positive outcome of the sum: personal productivity – labour costs.


However, only seldom this calculation is every really made, if it were possible to make this calculation based on individual performance at all. The resulting disconnect between productivity: the monetary production of a company, and labour costs: what it costs to hire a human being, leads to all kinds of anomalies in managing our means of production.


So What? If companies want to raise their competitiveness it is essential to measure productivity appropriately. And so, we find experts in cost accounting, statistics, and economics introducing methods that are very precise but all too often ignore the real challenges faced -by leaders, managers, ’we’ the company. “Whoever came up with this productivity index, paperwork, accounting rules… has no idea what my business is like”, is then an often-heard complaint.


So now what? Move authority to where the information is! Let basic production units, like teams or a team of teams do the math. A helpful metric is labour cost per product; that is, on labour content, not labour cost. The teams should however be able to oversee their contribution of added value to the value stream, a topic to discuss in another blog article. So here is the choice: Teams who are very productive can be paid more than employees elsewhere and the total company can still prosper –even without layoffs. Alternatively, a ‘social agreement’ could be introduced to share gains and losses amongst teams and production units. This will help foster social bonds, and intrinsic motivation to add value at your own unit or move to another, more prosperous part of the company to expand business there.


Departing questions: How do you spend time at work? What do you do at work to be productive and add value?



Abram Janse is trainer and coach at Gladwell Academy. He supports the development of social innovation and specializes in interactive agile and change management training. Here he makes use of serious gaming, gamification and online learning platforms for a playful and fun transfer of knowledge and skills.

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