Big DataCorner OfficeExpert Opinion

How to Incentivize Diverse Teams to Work towards Collective Success


By nature, the insurance industry is risk averse – this affects a firm’s external and internal operations, including the willingness to undergo organizational change, culture redesign, and the like. Risk-averse insurers are being threatened by fintech start-ups, and the only things preventing them from being completely overrun are

1) the carriers’ capital position, and

2) their knowledge of a highly complex regulatory environment.

To fend off these fintech threats, insurance companies must learn how to deliver improved and constantly evolving customer experiences and shorten product development lifecycles. Doing these things requires an agile culture. It is time for executives to be forward thinking, embrace change, and redesign teams to achieve organizational synergy and maximum delivery. To begin, executives must reconsider how we build, motivate, and reward our agile teams.

Build Trust and Respect by the Three “Cs”

  • Communication – Leaders within agile teams must ask themselves, how would I want to be communicated to? At the same time, leaders must acknowledge the diversity within teams, whether that includes various areas of expertise, age, or background. These characteristics may affect what forms of communication are effective within the group. Therefore, leaders must be conscientious of another communication tactic: listening. If a leader listens to their team, they will understand the nuances in communication tactics and they can thoughtfully respond. These mindfulness exercises are critical for team leaders and team members to cultivate an environment of transparency and trust.
  • Collaboration – There needs to be a thoughtful balance between respecting autonomy and complete dependency on other teammates to execute tasks. To strike this proper collaboration balance, leaders need to emphasize the importance of engagement. All members must show themselves as present, available for discourse, and open to asking and responding to questions. These expectations should be established at the formation of the team and before agile stages commence.
  • Conflict – When you trust and respect teammates, you respect that there is going to be conflict. With the foundation of strong communication and collaboration pillars, conflict can be resolved and can push teammates to go outside of their comfort zone. In contrast, it’s also important to respect your own boundaries and capabilities and trust that you will navigate disagreements with grace and compromise. Be prepared to level with teammates and come to the table with alternatives if you expect conflict with decision making.

Reward the team vs. individual

Let me share an example. Two teammates work on the same project and after completion, one employee gets a 15% bonus and the other gets a 20% bonus. They must be thinking, if we both collaborated on the same project, why is one financial reward greater than the other? It’s possible that outputs of these two individuals are different, but that’s beside the point – we need to start celebrating the team outcome more than the individual outcome to motivate people to communicate, collaborate, and properly navigate conflict together. If you don’t find the right way to reward the unit as opposed to the individual, there is less motivation to demonstrate the Three Cs.

So, what are examples of rewards for an entire group? Some may be financial, for instance all team members get a 20% stipend. Aside from financial rewards, there are acknowledgement-based rewards – for example, putting the team in an intranet article with each team member named with a short description of their contributions that are accurate can be satisfying and motivating. It could also be technology related, for instance, the team can decide on a device or application they want.

Another option emphasizes the opportunity for education as a reward, such as sending the team to a conference or have them decide a training or certification to pursue. Essentially these options strengthen the team dynamic instead of creating tension due to inequal recognition.

To create a reward that satisfies everyone at the beginning of a project, members should collaboratively brainstorm the type of reward they would like. If there are conflicting categories, try distributing each type of recognition over agile increments. You want your team to not only collaborate on work, but also on their reward to align incentives.

Use an agile coach  

The responsibility of an agile coach is not to manage the team, but to manage the culture. Agile coaches hold teammates accountable for abiding to the Three Cs, however their main responsibility is listening and responding to the team. Most of the communication is non-verbal, and agile coaches are experts in reading and anticipating needs. Agile coaches can moderate conversations about determining rewards and guide the team back to its founding principles, however, it is up to the members themselves to embrace a culture and mindset change around group delivery.

While reconstructing culture amidst teams and the overall business seems risky, you will see a dynamic emerge that is flexible, creative, and sustainable long-term. Our insurance practice has certified agile coaches who can guide you on your journey to building self-motivated and self-directed teams. An agile coach can convert their intellectual knowledge of agile into real-world practice, helping to adjust how people and teams operate, approach, and deliver their work.

(The author Zach Gould is Principal Consultant at Capco and the views expressed in this article are his own)

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