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
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
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
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.