How Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy Of Needs’ Fails When You’re Leading A Team

How Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy Of Needs’ Fails When You’re Leading A Team

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“What a man can be, he must be.” – Abraham Maslow, from Motivation and Personality

Humans are naturally wired to strive. To reach for something more than what they have, to connect to something bigger than themselves, and to be, as the United States Army advised prospective recruits, all that they can be.

Abraham Maslow, in his theory of individual self-actualization, demonstrated the universal human need to reach our full potential. It isn’t just that we “should” – it’s that we’re most motivated and fulfilled when we’re working toward that goal. Every other level of the famous pyramid or hierarchy was represented as a prerequisite to that state of self-actualization.

As business leaders we may not accept that we are responsible for providing any of those prerequisites to self-actualization, but the truth is that if we want to actualize the potential in our businesses, we must learn how to actualize the potential of the humans who make up the business.

However, we cannot follow Maslow’s model to build healthy, high-performance, actualized teams. After all, we cannot control the variables of a person’s life to ensure that what he termed their “deficiency needs” are met, nor do we always have the option of only hiring individuals who are meeting all the prerequisite needs for self-actualization. But the real reason is that our human needs as part of an interdependent organization are somewhat different than our needs for individual self-actualization.

In two decades and thousands of hours of working with teams and studying the requirements for healthy, high-performance teams, I’ve developed a framework for understanding and meeting human needs in a team dynamic. I call this framework The Six Facets of Human Needs®.

EditorI’ve studied both unhealthy teams and healthy teams, and more importantly, I’ve studied the requirements for transforming unhealthy, underperforming teams into healthy, high-performing teams. What I’ve found, and detailed in my book The Human Team: So You Created a Team but People Showed Up, is that humans in interdependent relationships have six natural needs that must be met in order to actualize their potential as a group.

I represent this framework as a circle, or wheel, because none of these needs “outrank” another, but if any one of them are missing in the workplace it is inevitable that human energy will stall and potential will be lost.

How do you know if you’re meeting your team’s needs for health and performance? Here’s an easy reference of “symptoms” that will, sooner or later, become acute if you’re failing to provide one or more of these needs.

CLARITY. If you see confusion about the bigger vision, about individual roles or success metrics, or about goals and outcomes, your team lacks clarity and will not be able to move forward in unison.

CONNECTION. Humans crave connection. Without it they become depressed, dysfunctional, and disengaged.

CONTRIBUTION. We all need to feel we’re contributing at our highest level and in meaningful ways. When not contributing, people tend to distract the team or even detract from it.

CHALLENGE. Achieving greater levels of performance and mastery is essential to fulfillment and actualization. Without healthy challenges teams become complacent.

CONSIDERATION. When we feel heard, acknowledged, and appreciated we build trust and respect. When humans are not considered they feel disregarded and will in turn disregard established policies, goals, and the humans they work with.

CONFIDENCE. Confidence is the best route to meaningful ideas and innovation. Without it, fear and apprehension dam up the potential for creativity and aspiration.

The beautiful thing is that when leaders place their focus on meeting all six of these needs as part of the culture, environment, and work structure, even teams that were once stymied and miserable can blossom into committed, cohesive, and yes, self-actualized, groups of happy, healthy, and productive human beings.

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