Building a culture of Intrinsic Motivation in your Startup


This is a guest column by Shamit Bagchi.

My current team is a startup team of self motivated members. These are my friends who are good at their own roles such as a technology expert, a financial expert who has vast experience with startups and is quite senior, one person who is very active in several student volunteer activities, another who is an artist himself, then another who runs his own startup and finally someone who is very interested in marketing and marketing strategy.

‘What do I believe in’ is the starting point - for myself to remain motivated and create energy in the team and not depend on energy. As co-founder of our venture I have the constant task of aligning the vision and bringing this diverse team with complementary skills on to the same page. The cultural entrepreneurship (fine arts) venture which we plan to diversify stems from my passion for the arts. So the right kind of communication plus the interests that the venture can serve to each of the members of the team is going to be crucial. Some have short term some longer terms interests in the venture.


Conditions for quality of performance would include the following:

  • Creativity, creative thought flow
  • A high cohesiveness within the team,
  • Autonomy in decision making (as each member is self driven, ego issues do crop up)
  • Cope with and create opportunities with low resource availability,
  • A common purpose and direction on goals to achieve evolving based on consensus and
  • Enabling Sales
  • A congenial atmosphere, low on politics to brainstorm and ideate
  • Dedicated time to spend on creating new ideas and implementing them.
  • Constant interactions to work in tandem and align goals

The last point becomes more important because of the distributed nature and dispersed team members, as many are working part-time and have other objectives apart from this partnership.

Hiring or the team composition should take into consideration the inherent interests in the areas or domain that a team member has, although training can be given to ingrain the visions of the organization. Allied areas of interest need to be catered to and a fulfilling experience is necessary I feel. High on learning and expressions, reconfiguring for achievable goals and with a potential to grow and self actualize within such a team is ideal for each member.

In order to explain about the company or the team’s objective or role the following concept can be utilized:

Instead of the outside in – communication should be inside out i.e. starting with ‘Why are we doing what we are doing?’ Otherwise we often do not feel motivated. So initially we were talking about what the company or venture is about – FRESH, ENERGETIC & ORIGINAL ART CONTENT by TALENTED ARTISTS from INDIA. Recently we changed the motto to read: We are passionate about and LOVE the ARTS; we believe in the creative and artistic potential of the artists and the freedom of art itself ( and the same points were set as the rationale behind the organization and guiding factors for the team too. The ‘how’ part is answered as: via an enriching art experience offline and online social networks.It is also imperative that where the quality is dependent on customer focus the customer’s choices and preferences have to be drilled down and seeing from the perspective of the customer becomes very essential; this can be a cognitive method. Affective or emotional messages and communication can help set the overall goal and objectives of the organization.

Why do we do what we do? Communicate the same to the employees or the team throughout and also the customer, such as Apple says we drive the next wave/think different.

Language and details alone does not help us decide. Because the neo-cortex (the outer layer of the brain deals with features and benefits of the catering or service) cannot directly communicate with the limbic brain the portion which works with feelings such as trust, loyalty, decision and behavior. The inside or the core of the brain deals with rationalization, what we say and do based on this, what are also the instinctive, gut decisions.

Facts and figures don’t matter, sometimes we have all of the facts and figures staring us in the face and yet we say we don’t exactly feel right! So the belief and values have to be common to the entire team in a startup.

We can make people work and get truly motivated and be a part of what we do only when we can make them believe what we believe in. So again hiring the people who believe what we believe in, also letting them work based on the tacit knowledge of their personality types they will then be directly in sync with and give their blood and sweat and tears to make the vision a success. Technical skills and education is not even a prerequisite and not the decider always – but if we have the good brains all aligned to a vision there is nothing better. A belief, cause and purpose which needs to be clearly – a big idea, in our case the potential value (economic, creative, customer) that artistic and creative people and art (fine and performing as well as literary) can generate. Attracting those who believe what we believe in is so essential!

Ultimately it has to stem from what they believed in and not necessarily what we believe in – although alignment is needed (may sound contradictory but is not). Cause to live life is to possess a dream (and not just a plan) that can then be implemented with the finances, infrastructure, rewards, incentives and all the rest – going down to the details.

Not because we ‘have to’ but we ‘want to’ – here again the concept of what we really like to do and what we are good at comes in to the fore as mentioned a complementary set of team members helps as each can independently work, not for the team but for themselves – this I fell is the way to inspire others. Finally it has to benefit the organization.

Of course when I proposed the venture and the idea some months back, I did possess the guts to stand out and be ridiculed however there were a few followers who liked the idea and joined in, I accepted them as equals – these people went on to call their friends; as is said the first few followers make a lone nut a leader. These followers need to be nurtured and given the goal clearly; a misstep here can cause big problems as I have observed as one early follower left our team due to misunderstandings and another had to be moved out due to a value mismatch.

Once the new followers come in there builds a momentum which signals that the venture or concept is less risky and more people follow the exact way to start a movement - is this! And this model is apt for Dhonuk.Dhonuk is in the process of rolling out creativity sessions in organizations to build the Creative Maturity in organizations -

Nurture fist few followers as equals as the first follower is very important and shows others how to follow, and ultimately more than the leader are the first few followers are the key.

Also a functional fixation of the roles in a team can sometimes cause problems; so instead the best people can be shown to create their own benchmarks and solutions for problems at every stage and the same can be appreciated and talked of/made public as a basis for creating norms. Also celebrate small successes/proactive initiatives. Contingent motivators often don’t work for cognitive roles and may work for more mechanistic roles where there are a simple set of task and an immediate destination; so we can narrow our focus, incentivize work.

However where peripheral vision/decisions are called for and in an exploratory mode as in a startup where the uncertainty is often higher and the rules are mystifying and non obvious then awards/incentives etc don’t work. Going back to our conditions for quality of performance three things become crucial:

  • Autonomy – role and decisions (such as Google’s 20% time for own projects)
  • Mastery (of the role that they love to do, in our case the functions)
  • Purpose (the vision of the organization and the goals set up, combined success)

In addition incentives and equity stakes can be introduced. Self engagement is the best form of engagement and of course a result based work environment is another method where no schedule is fixed. A reversed pyramid is another way of doing things as is suggested.

Assisting each other when they have completed their tasks is another culture point that can be imbibed as this helps build the cohesion better.

About Shamit

Shamit is currently employed to be a research associate at IIM Bangalore and is also pursuing his long and rigorous executive management education program (Post Grad, PGSEM , 2008-11) from IIMB in parallel. He is part of a startup as founder of an online art ecosystem called ‘Dhonuk’ setup along with a couple of his classmates as part of a cultural entrepreneurship initiative. A creative person and an entrepreneur by heart, initiative-driven he possesses a very imaginative, enterprising mindset. Of course he can be very reclusive at times!

On a serious note Shamit has been drawn towards the practical ideas and works of leading economists and entrepreneurs on poverty alleviation and the end of poverty through entrepreneurial measures and social entrepreneurship ventures, as a viable vision! Prof Trilochan Sastry’s pedagogy at IIM Bangalore, Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus's work on micro-finance and Grameen Bank, Jeffrey Sachs's work on economic stabilization through aid work and the UN Millennium Development Goals aimed at world-wide poverty reduction, and C K Prahalad's concept of targeting the Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP) come to mind right away - their intense dedication, writings and activities inspire him and he feels compelled to participate in a more tangible way some day.

Prior to the academic research life he has worked in various capacities as Senior Consultant, Aerospace Business Management, Principal Engineer/Technical Lead and Senior Engineer at Honeywell Technology Solutions, Bangalore India. He was editor of the organization-wide, monthly, internal literary/cultural e-zine and annual magazine 'Xpressions'; and actively involved in co-ordination, content selection, editing, layout design, writing and associated events.

A computer science engineering graduate from the University Visvesvaraya College of Engineering (UVCE), Bangalore; he has fond memories of his early professional days with Bharat Electronics Limited working as part of his first job with the Indian Army and also the Israelis.

A key member of the IIMB PGSEM organizing committee for events including L-CUBE leadership debates, Convergenz, Vista - IIMB flagship business event and the IIMB-NASSCOM Leadership Summit in partnership with NASSCOM – he was adjudged the first ‘Star of Quarter’ at IIMB for his high creativity coefficient.

He likes being the master of ceremonies, from experience at IIMB Convergenz and in domain level events within Honeywell; his presentations on branding were greatly appreciated at IIMB by both professor and classmates and he also has secured 2nd place in an organization-wide Oratory contest organized by Toast master's Club, HTS.

He does freelance writing on areas of technology, entrepreneurship and blogs on social issues and issues concerning his intense, avant-garde interests at


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