A 21st Century’s Perspective on Social Psychology around Motivating Employees and Organizing Teams

People are an organization’s most important assets. Developing critical skills, hiring individuals with great capabilities to learn, adjust and cope in a volatile business environment as well as retaining valuable employees within a company are crucial facts in which the success of an organization may depend on. With the sole reason to keep employees engaged and motivated to work more expeditiously, organizations are investing in applying different theories and practices around motivation so as to increase job satisfaction.

In the past decades, we have seen individuals coming up with amazing theories on how to motivate people in corporate environments to work more effectively. While a lot of these theories and practices are of different natures, applying only one may be ineffective in today’s world. For this reason, organizations have to apply theories that promote both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations.

In the words of Baron & Byrne, social psychology is the “scientific field that seeks to understand the nature and cause of individual behavior and thought in social situations”. Understanding how the behavior of individuals influence and relate to one another is a very important process for devising theories and practices around motivating and persuading people in a social context. I have written this post to give a big picture of what social psychology looks like in the 21st century when it comes to motivating employees, organizing teams, increasing job satisfaction and retaining critical skills within an organization.

1. How to motivate people to work more effectively?

By Melvin Vitug Moraga

Motivation theories are keys to human resource management. The lack of engagement and interest from employees in participating into certain work activities and being more productive may have a negative influence on the strategic goals of an organization. This issue may lead projects or organizations into failures.

In order to cook a recipe for success within an organization when it comes to managing people, one needs to identify and understand what drives and motivates people. Individuals’ behaviors are guided and motivated by some internal and external forces that bring satisfaction and personal enjoyment in what a person does or activities he/she is involved in.

To reach an employee’s intrinsic and extrinsic motivation drivers and increase job satisfaction with the aim to retain critical skills within a company, I believe that one needs to apply Hertzberg’s theory on motivational and hygiene factors, McGregor’s theory X and Y while mapping and influencing them with Dan Pink’s three elements of motivation formula (autonomy, mastery and purpose).

1.1. Hertzberg’s motivational and hygiene factors

If you aspire to management then you definitely need to understand what motivates people. In his theory, Hertzberg believes that motivation can be divided into two groups of factors which are hygiene factors and motivation factors. Hygiene factors are factors that aim to avoid unpleasantness and discomfort of a job. Hygiene factors are concerned with factors related to the job itself but are not directly a part of it. These include the following:

  • larger salaries
  • more attractive work environment
  • job security
  • health benefits

Hygiene factors lead to job dissatisfaction if not present. But even when these factors are present, they cannot motivate by themselves neither encourage people to do more.

On the other end, motivation factors are factors that can motivate workers and make them more productive. Dr. John Ball commented on this by saying that “in order to motivate an individual, the job itself must be challenging, have scope for enrichment and be of interest to the jobholder”. Motivators are those factors directly concerned with the satisfaction gained from the job itself including the following (Ball, 2003):

  • the sense of achievement and the intrinsic value obtained from the job itself
  • the level of recognition by both colleagues and management
  • the level of responsibility
  • Opportunities for advancement and the status provided.

1.2. Dan Pink’s motivation trifecta

by Kent University

One of the motivation schemes found in many organizations is reward. Incentives are given proportionally to the performance of the individual. However, Dan Pink believes that this kind of motivation scheme can only work for simple and straightforward tasks where only mechanical skills are involved. Money is a motivator in a sense that if you do not pay people enough they will not be motivated.

To engage people to concentrate on the work itself, the issue of money must be removed from the table (Pink, 2012). But when tasks get more complicated, requiring some conceptual creative thinking those kind of motivators massively don’t work. In his research, he concluded that there are three factors that leads to better performance and personal satisfaction:

Autonomy: this refers to the desire to self-direct oneself. If you really want to engage employees to activities than you might have to reduce the level of supervision and give employees a bit of freedom when it comes to the way they complete tasks. Autonomy leads to innovation which is not really promoted by the spirit of compliance where things are done by the book as management encourages. In this we can say that you should focus on the final result rather than the methods and processes used to achieve it.

Mastery: this refers to our urge to get better at stuff. In the words of Josef Langerman I believe that “all of us want to feel that we are really good at something. That is why we pursue hobbies that take up our time and energy. We steadily get better and get enjoyment out of it. Performance management systems are changing to the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition that reflects this need for mastery” (Langerman, 2016).

Purpose: this refers to a person’s sense of determination or the reason in which something is done, created or exists. Purpose has become a model motive for organizations. Individuals are building products and services not just to maximize profits or revenues but to solve a problem, make the world a better place, help or contribute to humanity, etc.

Consequently, the application of these three factors in management practices for motivating individuals is what we believe to be and must be in the center or the invisible motivational driver for every motivation theory in this dynamic digital era.

1.3. McGregor’s theory X and Y

by Apurva kavishwar.

While many individuals will be more productive if they can be motivated by autonomy, this theory cannot work for those who do not want to take responsibilities and stay lazy at the work environment. McGregor’s theory X and Y on motivation is a human relations approach to management.

In theory X managers believe that workers dislike and avoid work. So in this perspective, in order to get people to work, managers must make use of various control schemes, threats and coercion. The idea behind this theory supports that employees must be controlled, pushed to be more productive, have to be directed in order to do things that they do not want to do.

In contrast, in theory Y managers assume that individuals consider work as natural as play or rest and enjoy the satisfaction of esteem and self-actualization. Ideas behind this theory support that employees want to be involved, can be trusted to think and make decisions by themselves, they can take responsibilities and engage in self-management.

1. How to organize teams and get the best from individuals?

By Joecyl Gianna Marie Guisando.

Many individuals believe that the issues around communication are the major reasons of problems around teams. While this may be true in larger teams, issues around teams that lead to under productivity are not directly bound to communication problems but in the way the team is organized. Communication gets terrible as team size grows (Choi, 2014). This is even supported by J. Richard Hackman who believes that the larger a group, the more process problems members encounter in carrying out their collective work.

Janet Choi commented on this by saying that the number of links between people in larger teams is the real problem. She further affirmed that as the “group size grows, you simply can’t have as meaningful of a conversation with every person, which is why people start clumping off into smaller clusters to chat”. So how can one organize and empower teams?

2.1. The Two Pizza Rule

By Joecyl Gianna Marie Guisando

Jeff Bezos believes that a team should not be larger than two pizza can feed. The idea behind the “two pizza rule” is that if the team is small than individuals will have no problems to relate to and interact with each other. Whereas in a larger team individuals often find it difficult to interact with one another especially when it comes to orientation for new individuals joining the team.

A team composed of at most 6 to 7 individuals will make it easier to communicate. Small teams encourage individuals to work faster with some autonomy for self-management which is one of the major drivers to innovations.

2.2. Dunbar’s Number

If you ever ask yourself how many people can you actively maintain a relationship with, then you should consider Dunbar’s theory. The idea behind Robin Dunbar’s theory is that “that there’s a limit to the amount of relationships a person can maintain. This is roughly 150. Although the exact number is widely debated, the theory stands. Some people have embraced this concept on social media platforms by self-imposing friend limits” (Wittman, 2013). This theory supports everything we have discussed above when it comes to organizing teams. If you have more friends, you work in an environment or team where there are many people, you cannot maintain the same kind of relationship with everyone.

In Dunbar’s theory, 150 is believed to be the number of casual friends or people one can invite to a large party. 50 is the number of close friends. 15 is the number of friends one can turn for sympathy when he/she needs it. 5 represents the number of most intimate people, best friends or close supports. What keeps face-to-face friendship stronger than social media interactions is the nature of shared experience but Dunbar’s number may shrink the more virtual friends replace our face-to-face friends (Konnikova, 2014). Thus, in the context of organizing teams, a team of 6 to 9 individuals but preferably 5 will make it easier for team members to maintain constant and manageable relationships and have meaningful conversations without grouping themselves into small clusters as we see this more often in different events when people try to network.


In conclusion, our 21st century’s perspective on social psychology around motivating employees and organizing teams supports the idea that using a single theory or practice for getting employees to engage into activities may not be efficient. In order to motivate employees, develop critical skills and retain valuable employees within an organization, one have to make use of Dan Pink’s motivation theory, Hertzberg motivation and hygiene factors as well as McGregor’s theory X and Y. Combining these three theories together can help reach an individual’s intrinsic and extrinsic motivation drivers. When it comes to organizing teams, small teams are more effective and productive than larger ones. This is supported by Jeff Bezos who believes that a team should not be larger than two pizza can feed. Communication problems emerge as the team size grows and this makes it difficult for the team to exchange information, find help or getting directions on how to complete tasks.

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