How a bit of Uncommon Knowledge keeps our team happy and motivated

UNK teams into the woods
Getting out of the office and into the woods usually keeps the team happy!

Here at Uncommon Knowledge, we subscribe to the idea of people having a set of primal needs, which if met keep them happy, healthy, and productive.

Now, part of that is to ensure that not all your needs are met through your work – all eggs in one basket syndrome – but at the same time, as a company, we want our team to enjoy what they do.

So, here’s what we do…

Firstly, when hiring, we try to fit people to roles. That’s nothing new, but if we’re hiring and we interview a highly sociable, outgoing person for an entry-level programming role, we’re going to think twice because that role requires long periods of working alone with little outside input.

Similarly, if we’re hiring for customer support, we want someone who genuinely cares deeply about people, not someone who just knows the right words to say.

That way, the role helps meet a key need for them and they’re likely to get ongoing satisfaction from the job.

Let’s look at the individual needs and how the company meet these. (This will be an interesting process, as I haven’t broken it down so specifically for a long time. We’ll see at the end whether we’ve got any gaps!)

1. The need to give and receive attention

No matter how much of a self-starter you might be, if you’re working for someone else you need to know your efforts are noticed and appreciated. You also need to know if there’s anything you could be doing better.

We facilitate this within the team with our daily huddle – at 10:07am, everyone on the team gets together (via Skype for the remote folks) and we quickly run through what our day is going to look like. Any problems get sorted out quickly as the team jump in to help each other.

Once a week, everyone on the team fills in a quick set of questions ranging from progress on their goals to how they are feeling personally. I read these every week and usually comment on one or two points.

And at our monthly one-to-ones, team members get time to discuss their role, talk about how things are going, and raise any concerns they have.

One thing I think we could do better is keep our remote team members involved in this, but it’s difficult due to time zone and language differences. If anyone has any tips about this, do let me know in the comments at the bottom of the page.

2. The need to heed the mind/body connection

Taking care of physical needs is vital if you’re going to be productive. So we provide standing desks and a treadmill desk so we can all ensure we take time away from sitting. It’s rare for anyone to do overtime and it’s not encouraged – my experience is that if you know you can work late, your focus and prioritization get poorer and you end up working overtime unnecessarily.

3. The need for purpose, goals, and meaning

We certainly don’t believe work is the only place where you find purpose, goals, and meaning – but it is a huge part of our lives. Luckily, our work is all about meaning! There is little that’s more meaningful than getting an email from someone who has turned their life around using our products.

In addition, the team get regular training, we are always upskilling, jobs are always evolving, and we are always taking on new responsibilities. We try to ensure no one feels they are stagnating, although keeping things fresh isn’t always easy within the confines of a small company. Personally, I would prefer someone move on to a new company than feel trapped and bored in their role. That will quickly poison the morale within a small team.

4. The need for community and making a contribution

We are based in Oban. It’s nearly impossible to go through a day here without running into some community initiative or other, so contribution is ‘in the air’. We encourage staff to get involved with this by giving them three days off to volunteer and the company matches funds raised for charity. This year, Kirstin (our Customer Care Team Manager) led the team in fundraising, training for, and finally taking part in Maggie’s Challenge, which raised more than £1,000 for a local cancer charity.

5. The need for challenge and creativity

The thing is, I am a crap manager. What I mean by that is, like many entrepreneurs, it’s not a natural part of my nature. I don’t want to be managed and so I have tended to assume other people don’t, either. In fact, I have a problem with the whole idea of ‘managing’ – it sounds like what you have to do with a bunch of unruly kids.

So, the way we do things is to give people as much support as they need, especially during the learning phases of their job, then we let them get on with it and check back in regularly to ensure they’re not swamped and are moving in the right direction.

Our company is inherently entrepreneurial and the team know they can look for opportunities within their role and pursue them.

We also encourage growth and learning outside work with the LOVE scheme.

6. The need for intimacy

Their need for intimacy is something we definitely encourage the team to meet outside the workplace, but we recognize the need for social time. You can see some of the nonsense we get up to to bond the team.

Building exercise in the wood

Building exercise in the woodA team building exercise in the woods

Playing on SegwaysPlaying on Segways at nearby Glencoe

Mark and Kirstin rockclimbingMark and Kirstin rock climbing on a staff day out

7. The need for a sense of control

Our weekly feedback asks questions about ideas for the company and what staff need from the company to help them move forward in their role.

Staff can also sell up to one week of their holiday back to the company every year. We do encourage people to take time off, but it gives a little more autonomy to be able to choose.

8. The need for status

Well, of course, having a job you enjoy and feel passionate about meets this need automatically, but we also always aim to be the very best in our field, which adds to everyone’s feelings of doing something worthwhile.

9. The need for safety and security

I’ve always had the feeling that as the team’s leader, it’s my responsibility to protect them. Now, they’re all grown ups and can handle themselves just fine, but if a customer becomes abusive (as occasionally happens) or a supplier is taking liberties, then I let it be known I’m available to step in. It’s rare this is necessary, but the team know they have backup if they need it.

It also goes without saying that we don’t stand for any intra-team aggravation. This is much easier within a small team like ours, but we hire pleasant people who can get on with others and the rest takes care of itself. We’ve never had to deal with a case of bullying or similar unpleasantness.

I hope that’s been a useful insight into how we help our team meet their needs here at Uncommon Knowledge.

Have you got any thoughts on how else an employer can help their staff meet their Primal Human Needs? I’d love to know your suggestions…

  • Nick D

    Having some form of social media platform for asynchronous interaction is one of the better ways to keep a widely distributed team connected. Probably something you already do? Can do it by setting up a company-only Facebook group, or I find Yammer is good (and also free). But there are lots of options. Also tends to blend the social and the work nicely, and has the advantage of keeping
    the corporate history in a unified space, for new recruits.

  • “M”

    Very interesting.

    I do think these worthwhile things are much more easily achieved with a smaller team (at least one that’s sufficiently self-aware, and willing, to regularly examine itself and its possible shortcomings).

    I’d be interested to read suggestions about strategies to put these kinds of objectives in place with teams that are larger or less self-aware (and/or both).

    • HI there. Yes, our team is small an tight-knit, and we hire first and foremost for team fit, which keeps us that way. Larger teams I am sure have their own challenges but that’s not my area of experience.