How to have a happy, motivated and engaged team? (Part I)


There is no one magic formula really. Press this button and you have those things in your team. In fact, there are a series of things that need to be nurtured and developed. They take real reflection, strategic planning and then sustained and significant effort.

In a multicultural team, this becomes even harder. Some cultures stamp out autonomy or creativity. Other cultures esteem creativity but are often culturally shy to communicate.

Our team has people from France, Maldives, USA, Korea and as we are based in Sri Lanka … well, Sri Lankans. But even amongst Sri Lankans, you have Sinhalese, Upcountry Tamils, Jaffna Tamils, Moors, Malays, Memons, Burghers and other minorities. Each brings to the table their own qualities, perspectives and quirks.

All of that needs to be navigated to create a happy team that is really engaged and motivated.

We thought to do a series of what works for us. This exercise is not to boast or to say that we at KeenEye and Beyond have found the magic formula, rather this is more of an exercise to share our experience and engage in a discussion.

The first thing we thought to discuss is autonomy.

To truly motivate people, you need to give them a certain amount of autonomy. This is especially true in the digital sector. Working as a team requires an office presence to solve problems, to properly strategize or plan. Furthermore, in-office work is often necessary for testing especially when we work with exotic IoT devices. But at the same time, an engineer could really work at a café or on his/her couch. A liberal policy of working from home and flexible work time allows the team to work according to their rhythm. We are experimenting with more and more flexibility. In the future, we might be able to see a reduction in the working week to allow more family time.

It requires a lot of trusts that the team member will pull his/her weight and not slack. That is a concern even when someone is sitting at a desk, isn’t it? Every manager has had team members who don’t pull their weight. Sometimes these issues can be resolved from good internal communication, such as a personal issue or a technology gap but other times it is just that a person is not trustworthy and who wants such a person on a team?

If the team is autonomous they will push that person out as they will not want to compensate for their lack of team-playerness.

The real trick, obviously to allow autonomy, is that people need to have ownership. They need to feel part of a bigger project and they need to feel what they are creating is useful, unique and interesting.

Another way to boost motivation levels is to include them in the Company project. When we talk about a company projects, we are referring to being a part of a company that has a vision, set values, a growing team and a certain uniqueness.

If you can have both cool projects that are meaningful and a company that has a real project than you have the formula to create ownership.

If you “own” your work you will not slack and in exchange, you can become more autonomous.

Now culturally in Asia, this is a challenge because generally families, schools and companies are very controlling and there is hardly any autonomy. So giving autonomy can just be perceived as an excuse to not be productive. Another challenge is that traditionally decision making is not encouraged in South Asia. Most of the time people want to be told what to do and how to do it as they don’t want to make a mistake.

That is why the focus has to be on creating ownership first, then teach people that they need to learn to make decisions.. and mistakes. That starts a learning process and in turn creates more ownership.

In both our teams we are learning to have that ownership and we are encouraging our teams to make decisions on their own, consulting with someone else only when it is absolutely necessary. Autonomy is not something that can be imposed as it will not work like that. Slowly the conditions need to be set and mentalities molded and that is what we are trying to do with our teams. This is our biggest project and the first step in making our team happy, satisfied and motivated.