Motivating Your Engineering Team

T02 Motivating Engineering Teams

© 7CTOs, Inc. | From the 7CTOs Da Vinci CTO Innovation Curriculum | Author(s): Etienne de Bruin & Michael Saul | Version: 01 | Release date: Jan 2016


Most companies are on an annual cycle when it comes to strategic planning.  Hopefully there aren't any wild swings in overall goals and focus as lessons learned from the year before are rolled up into sales and marketing data and ultimately an adjustment to execution strategy.  As executives it is our role to make sure that our teams are protected from the turmoils of change and so this Da Vinci module takes a look at what motivates engineers and the most effective ways in which to help them adjust to changes in strategy in the new year.


Finding creative ways for the CTO to motivate their engineering teams by raising the awareness of what drives motivation,



Bonus and reward is often a topic of discussion when it comes to motivating teams.  "If you get this delivered before the weekend, you'll get a $2,000 Amazon gift card.", or something to that effect.  As CTOs we have to balance between the demands of business and the intricacies of software or hardware delivery which makes it tempting to manipulate outcome by driving consequence for success or failure.  Daniel Pink, author of Drive, calls these types of executives, "Contingent Motivators".  If you do this, then that.  The general consensus in the tech industry is that this does not work.  External reward rarely drives the behavior we are looking for.


While reward narrows the focus, we look to non-intuitive ways in which to motivate our engineering teams.  More from Daniel Pink:

Get money off table, pay adequately & fairly then organize around the desire to do things – because they matter, – because we like it, – because they’re interesting, 

Autonomy:  the urge to direct our own lives
Mastery:  the desire to get better and better at something that matters
Purpose:  the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves


A breakthrough in motivating engineers is to first see them as creative beings.  Easy you say?  Perhaps not so much.  They are right brained creative people with a desire to effect change from the shortest line of code to the largest causes on the planet.  They are left brained scientists who could spend hours, days, weeks on solving the smallest of problems while lost in a world of instant feedback loops.  Give them a voice, unlock their creativity and don't forget that recognition goes a long way towards motivating them.


When meeting in your 7CTOs forum, answer these questions:

  1. What motivates your engineers?
  2. How do you recognize good work?
  3. How are you implementing Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose in your company?