Moving motivators for coaching distributed teams

A few years ago, I got hired to coach a distributed team and my main task was to “make them agile”. The backgrounds and cultures of team members was so diverse that I had a hard time understanding how to design a workshop for them. The team consisted of 7 members from 7 different countries in 3 continents and they were located in two different countries. Challenges of agile transformation combined with distributed work was making the situation difficult for most people to tackle.

At first, I started by asking a lot of questions and helped the team to visualize their daily work. In parallel to that, I coached the product owner to learn about her role better. She was in fact a former project manager who without any agile training, had been asked by management to become a product owner.

This particular team had such a diverse group of people and because they were all new to working together. Therefore understanding the team dynamics was very difficult even for an experienced agile coach. Luckily, when I was brought in to help the team, I could see through their limited online communication that they were struggling with some of the basic dysfunctions of a team: trust. I asked myself: “how can I create trust in a distributed team who only speak to each other once a day and have no clarity in their role description?”

A “restart” workshop seemed appropriate. I realized I could teach them about agile roles, the mechanics of scrum as a way to help them create their own working agreement. However, I needed to know what type of exercises I should include in this workshop to help them the most.

So I decided to understand every single individual in the team better using moving motivators. An important part of an agile coach’s job is to engage in one-to-one professional coaching. And one of the most critical steps in a coaching relationship is designing an alliance between the coach and the coachee. I used Moving Motivators to get an overview of what each individual valued, so that I could then design the workshop in such a way that would empower every single person in this distributed team.

A different introduction

I scheduled one-to-one sessions with each member of the team and assured them of confidentiality. The purpose of the exercise was for me to learn more about them in order to better help them. I wanted to understand what motivates them in order to be able to help them better both in the restart workshop and in the rest of my coaching relationship with them.

Setting the stage for this conversation was slightly unusual as I needed to make sure they can trust me first. I helped each individual to tell me about things they cared about. I simply asked them to introduce themselves by answering the following question.

What is exciting in your life right now?

This question was enough for some people to talk for 10 minutes. It helped them tell me about their background, what they had done in the past and what excited them.

Moving motivators to create a coaching alliance with each member of a distributed team

With this question as the opening, I smoothly brought the Moving Motivator cards out of my briefcase. I explained the purpose of the exercise to the person sitting across from me. Then I described what intrinsic motivators are and how they can help me help that person better.

Moving motivators - distributed team - France

As I mentioned earlier, some people were working in other cities with whom I had video conferences. For those conversations, I used a Real Time board where I had placed all the motivators.

Powerful questions

As each individual thought about their motivators, I asked them questions that would help me understand them better. Some of these questions were:

  • What is one example of when this particular motivator stopped being important?
  • Could you describe an experience in which the motivator you have placed at the left became very important? Tell me about it.
  • What does this motivator mean to you?
  • How do you define freedom, honor, etc?

Using moving motivators, I was able to immediately establish a relationship of trust with each individual. This trust helped me coach the team much more effectively. Also I designed the restart workshop such that each team member benefited from it. This helped both the team members who were sitting together and the ones who were working remotely.

As per request of team members, I later facilitated a regular Moving Motivators workshop for them, somewhat similar to the what is described in Moving motivators can turn a group of consultants into a team! without step 3 on that blog post.

Moving motivators - distributed team - India

This distributed team was one of the most eager teams I have ever coached. They adopted the practices of effective communication, visualization, working out loud, etc within only two weeks after the restart workshop. They learned not only to trust each other, but also help each other become better communicators and an overall high performing team.

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