Most businesses stress the importance of team working. There is a logic behind this. Projects often require a minimum level of ‘critical mass’ and no one person has all the skills that the business (and their customers) may need; indeed there is increasing evidence to suggest that a talented team with a diversity of cognitive thinking and experience should generate superior results compared with an equally talented but less diverse team.

But let’s consider the matter from a more basic angle – why do most people prefer to be part of a team, however one defines it?

When we ask people, typical responses include:

● It’s lonely working on my own
● I like to bounce ideas off others
● The support of others is helpful when things get tough
● I don’t have the confidence to do everything myself
● I like working with other people who share my passion

Perhaps not surprisingly many of these can be mapped directly to what Abraham Maslow, a renowned US psychologist, called our ‘hierarchy of needs’.


Maslow (1908 -1970) was an American psychologist and university professor who developed a framework that sought to explain what motivates people. His concept was that people are motivated to achieve certain needs and that there is a basic order we follow in satisfying such needs. Maslow’s model consists of five tiers. The first four are deficiency needs -that is they motivate people when they are not met – with the top tier being a growth need.

Maslow’s theory has been subjected to analysis by psychologists over the years, with relatively recent research confirming that people do tend to have a range of needs that correspond to those identified by Maslow, although the order in which our needs are satisfied is not necessarily as linear as Maslow proposed.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that team working can satisfy a number of basic, psychological and self-fulfilment needs.

So for team leaders wishing to enhance the effectiveness of their teams, what might we learn from this?

1. Recognise that people are different, and will have different motivators. Not everyone wishes to seek self-actualization – many are happy with their psychological/basic needs being met. Even then, people will have different ways of satisfying such needs.

2. It takes effort to get to know each member of your team. Top leaders know that, and are prepared to put the effort into understanding how best to engage with and motivate each of their team members.

3. Help your team understand one another. Don’t assume that people who have worked together for a many years will have achieved this level of insight. Some may find it hard to do so, or be put off by dealing with issues that appear ‘fluffy’ or ambiguous. Take time in working with your team in doing so – one-day workshops with no follow up rarely succeed in changing mindsets.

So which of these are you going to work on first?

Author: Russell Borland