Maslow's Hierarchy and your Team

Posted by Graham Wheeler on Tuesday, September 15, 2015

I mentioned in a previous post that I would talk about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in relation to team health.

Maslow described a set of layers of needs with respect to human motivation:

  • physiological - the basic needs for survival (food, water, shelter, air, etc)
  • safety - health, well-being, security
  • love/belonging - friends and family
  • esteem - respect of others and (more importantly) self-respect
  • self-actualization - becoming the most you can be
  • self-transcendence - altruism and given of yourself to others

Maslow considered the first four to be necessary for mental health and a pre-requisite for self-actualization and transcendence. This hierarchy of needs is a useful model; it’s not science but can help us understand shortcomings in ourselves and others that may need addressing to reach our full potential.

So how does this relate to teams and management? We can come up with a similar set of needs for healthy teams and team members:

  • physiological - this goes without saying unless you’re trying to operate in a war zone
  • safety - as a tech worker, this usually isn’t an issue so I’ll take it as a given too
  • belonging - in a team context this relates to psychological safety. Do you have a hostile workplace? Or do people feel safe to be themselves? Are roles and reponsibilities clear? Are team members supportive of one another or are they trying to stab each other in the back? This relates to organizational culture - can you get ahead while helping others grow or by pushing them out of the way? The former is healthy while the latter is not.
  • esteem - do people take their work seriously? Do you hire good people? Are people dependable and good are meeting their commitments? Do people have clear goals and are there well-understood processes?
  • self-actualization - do people enjoy their jobs? Do they feel like they are learning/growing? Do you have the right people doing the right work, so that they are motivated and excited about what they are doing individualy?
  • self-transcendence - as a team, do people think their work matters and they are making a difference in the world? Do you have a clear vision statement so everyone understands what they are working towards collectively? Do you celebrate your accomplishments together?

You can use these layers as a way to think about, evaluate and improve the health of your team.