Maslow hierarchy of needs and Teambuilding

Resonating Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs theory of a person and applying it in a Team.

I have always been intrigued by theories created by the founding fathers of Psychology, and among these founding fathers, Abraham Maslow is perhaps and arguably one of the more profound ones. He stressed the importance of focusing on positive qualities in people as opposed to treating them as a “bag of symptoms”, which led him to found and create his theory best known as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

His theory, namely Maslow hierarchy of needs suggests that there are 5 levels of motivation and each level has to be achieved before one can proceed to the next level. These 5 levels are namely, Physiological needs, Safety Needs, Belongingness and love needs, Esteem needs and finally self-actualization.

For the rest of this article, although profoundly abstract, this article would demonstrate how Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs theory can be applied into the Teambuilding framework.

First of all, the most basic level, Physiological needs refers to the physical requirements for human survival. In Maslow’s context, an individual has to first satisfy this level of needs before him or her can proceed on to the next level of needs. In the context of Teambuilding, the team must have some form of compensation or revenue for it to continue its survival.

The second level refers to safety needs; safety needs refer to absence of threats to physical safety such as war, natural disaster or violence. Safety needs also include personal security, financial security, health and well being and safety net against accidents/illness and their adverse impacts. In the context of an organization or a team, it would refer to the trust and faith in the skill sets of the individual team members and that each team member would have the backing for one another. It could refer to competition from other competing teams and/or organizations which could threaten the source of revenue, resources or compensation. Hence the team would have to ensure that their survivability is ensured.

Next level along the hierarchy of needs would be love and belonging. Superficially, this level of needs refer to the interpersonal relationships and feelings of belongingness; that said, it is highly important for an individual to achieve love and belongingness as deficiency in this level of needs can override the need of safety as witnessed in children who cling to abusive parents resulted with negative impact to the individual’s ability to form and maintain emotionally significant relationships. In the context of a team, it would refer to the loyalty of the members towards one another and if they feel a sense of belongingness to the team and if the team’s mission and values resonate with the individual. It would be of imperial importance for the team member to resonate with the team’s mission and values or in the very least align his/her values with the organization’s/team’s.

With the previous three levels of needs satisfied, the next level of needs would be Esteem needs. Everyone has a need to feel respected which includes the need to have self-esteem and self-respect. Esteem refers to the need/desire to be recognized, accepted and value by others. Maslow identified that most people have the need for stable and consistent self-respect and self-esteem. Malsow also noted that there is a “lower version” and a higher version” of esteem needs. The lower version refers to the need for respect from others (such as fame, status, recognition and attention) and the higher version presents itself as a need for self respect (an example is that an individual may have a need for strength, competence mastery of a certain skill , self confidence and independence). Maslow noted that this higher version would take precedence over the lower version as the higher version depends on individual competence through experience and deprivation of these needs may lead to inferiority complex, weakness and helplessness.

Esteem needs for a team could most likely be referred to branding or brand establishment. The need for an established and recognized brand is almost similar to Malsow’s identification of the need for stable self-respect and self-esteem. While the lower version of esteem needs seem to resonate with the principles of having a strong and recognizable brand, the higher version of esteem needs would refer to the team members achieving strong competency levels in what they are doing, professionalism and a high standard in its industry.

Maslow also emphasized that while he originally thought that the needs of humans had strict guidelines, he came to believe that the hierarchies are interrelated rather than sharply separated and that esteem needs and the subsequent levels are not strictly separated; instead, the levels are closely related. Thus, in the context of an organization or a team, the subsequent levels or the basic needs of survival and safety are just as important as belongingness to a team or a mission and also as important as developing core competency levels with professionalism.

The next level, self-actualization refers to what a person’s full potential is and the realization of that potential of that potential. In other words, “What a man can be, he must be”; for this level, individuals may perceived or focus this need specifically, such as becoming an ideal chef or in other scenarios, it may be expressed in paintings, pictures or inventions. Maslow went on to mention that the individual must master the previous needs in order to understand this level of need.

In the context of a Team or an organization, the Team/Organization would strive to achieve what is their ideal form in terms of utilizing individual’s strengths and weaknesses to complement one another.

In his later years, Maslow discovers a further dimension of needs, namely self transcendence. Throughout this process, he criticize his own version on self-actualization; “the self only finds its actualization in giving itself to some higher goal outside oneself, in altruism and spirituality”. In other words, if a team were to reach this level, it would be giving itself a higher goal outside the Team itself. The Team/Organization would be looking at developing the industry, reshaping the industry, bringing or moving the industry as a whole. The Team would be concentrating its efforts into developing leaders and the direction of its vision as well.

With all these theories in mind, it begs the question of why would this Hierarchy of needs theory be useful in developing Teams or Individuals? Maslow theorize this theory in an effort to understand how do people improve themselves and why and what was their motivation; thus, if we know if an individual is on a certain level, what kind and type of motivation he or she or the Team requires to move up to the next level. Although there have been critics saying that this manner of understanding people is humanistic in nature rather than contesting on the facts that humans are perverse in nature, nonetheless, it is a useful theory in understanding and finding out how to motivate an individual or a Team.