How to build a self-motivated software developer team

A team which all team members are self-motivated is a dream team where everybody want to join in. But, it is really rare. Well, maybe the 1992 dream team was one of the cases but we didn't see many examples in software developer's world.

Nevertheless, to build a self-motivated team is a major task of a manager. If you are the manager, this should be your priority-zero task, and should be only one zero, if you are going to build a new team.

Self-motivated might be the best way to drive software engineer's performance. Since high productive engineer works high involved in creativities and mental work.  These are hardly be gain or impacted by salary or physical award (reference: 1, 2, 3). Sometimes it could be driven by a noble target: save all poor children in the world, increase average human life to 200 years. But unfortunately, that kind of things normally happens in non-profit organization with a born charismatic leader. 

So how to build a self-motivated software developer team in a common working place?

Three key points: (1) selection (2) intersection (3) automation.

(1) Selection

If a member who is already a self-motivated person, then it will be easy to keep his good attitude. Since it is pretty hard to change a person's mindset, therefore to get a right person is the most easy way.

Do select a person who already has record on self-motivation. DON'T select a person who has good skill-set but has bad records on self-motivation and you believe you can change his/her mindset, I won't say it is possible but you need to understand that you really have much less changes. Since you can't be with the person 7x24 and his mindset is only inside his brain.

The key point of selection is try to understand his past. Do not judge his "self-motivation" by ask future question like: will you be self-motivated in our team? Understand his past working experience by asking the difficult moment. Especially, sometime he might not be in spotlight and what he did on that moment.

Again, identify a person's past is the best way to select right attitude candidates. And a best fitting person can really have positive impact for the team. 

(2) Intersection

There is no way to read team member's mind. People have left-hand-column, even if you already selected best people to join your team and you were very sure they all are honest. But they surly have things which can't tell or won't tell.

Some leaders or managers will try to dig it out, it is fine to do but not that easy. The best way is to admit the existence. And then leaders should focus on the intersection which is the area that covers the target of a single team member, the team and the organization. And that is also the area where creates win-win-win.

A self-motived member could find that area by himself. But if you are leader/manager, you should keep in mind that figure out the area and knowing the area is very different in each individual. To fine tune a bit earlier can largely reduce the risk of un-motivated situation.

For example, "Ken" is always in good performance and deliver pretty good result. And you believe that you knew that his career interesting is pure technical area. Which means he might want to be an architect in the future. However, if you see he is pretty happy to lead junior members to work out teamwork activities, for example : organize a study group, handle company travel, or year end party. That might be a sign of that he is actually want to be a manager in the future. If his actions is toward his goal then it is fine. However, if his actions didn't reflect your assumption, then it is your time to reset yourself or/and make a little changes.

The bottom line is to avoid lose-lose-lose situation. This sounds funny and should not even considered to happen. But there are too many true sad stories existed in the world. An usual/typical sample in software developer's world was: a team (which members are well-pay) worked over-time on an ambiguous project for months, delivered a product which didn't fit PM's expectation, company lose money, members lose life, customer didn't get result: no body wins.

To avoid 3-lose situation, make sure there is an intersection of all. If you were the manager, make sure you can guide your members into his own intersection. But if you really see that there is NO intersection at all, make sure to create one.

(3) Autopilot

Autopilot means a member knows exactly what to do, how to do. And most important thing is if there are tasks out of his current skill set, he will know how to learn. He can even do self-consideration of intersection and selection. Totally worry-free.

Again, if the selection was done good, to let team member become autopilot will be easy. All you need to do is coaching. Coaching is another topic of a few books plus lots of trainings/experience. If you are an experienced leader/manager then you already know how to do, just reminder to keep open your mind. And also please keep in your mind that open-your-mind is never easy.

The bottom line is to avoid micro-management.  Software development is highly brain consuming job. Micro-management never works in software development, it does work in other kind of job but it definitely doesn't work in software development. If you need to talk to your member about when to arrive in office, when to leave, what to update in Slack, how to write email. That means you are NOT trying to build self-motivated team or this specific person won't fit in a self-motivated team.

Sorry, No short-cut

There is no short-cut in for organization theory. However, practically do the right things normally will get the positive result in a few months. Of course, sometimes in a rapid startup environment, it seems no time to wait. But most of us in software developer world are running marathon not a sprint.

Skill sets and performance concerns:

There is one more thing. I didn't discuss skill sets and performance here. But this is actually extremely critical for a software developer's team. Without an excellent skill sets and performance delivery the self-motivated will be useless. However, this "should" be not difficult to identify during interview and resume check.