How To Reward Teams When Adopting Agile

Updated: Jun 25, 2020

Like any change in team behavior, it can come with a visceral resistance. As a leader, I struggled with the idea of taking a high performing team and breaking enough of the rules to make it feel different – all with the hopes of a better functioning team.

The move to agile was a challenging one for us, because you can’t take a bunch of A players and get them to believe that taking one step back is beneficial in the long-term while sacrificing their sanity in the short term. In order to help grease those wheels on adoption ( we adopted a micro reward system that really helped to gel our team’s behavior and did it all on a startups budget.

Here’s some of the options we’ve implemented:

Hitting Two Week Sprint Goals. Each week the team would put together our sprint goals on a whiteboard in the main hallway. The purpose is to be open, transparent, and overt about what we have to accomplish as a team. The team is the centralized focus – if one person misses their task – no one wins. We’re in this boat together.

Down and dirty white board of all our work for 2 weeks
Bear Sprint Board

As we get close to that second Friday in the sprint, the team meets after the afternoon standup each evening and starts to redistribute tasks. Team members move to help those who are still bogged down with large amounts of work, blockers are clearly identified and prioritization for remaining tasks is emphasized.

Bear team's incentive wheel filled with everything from bonus chicken nuggets to a half day off for hitting our goals!
"The Wheel"

The wheel is exactly what it sounds like, a giant spinning prize wheel that has prizes ranging from new books to a ½ day off on it for the team. Some of our most fun moments as a team have been watching our fellow colleagues. But the business of sprint boards is a critical one, we’re able to move 25-30% more project work in a sprint board winning week.

Here’s a quick video of the team spinning the wheel after hitting our two-week sprint. You can really feel the pride and energy at the end of the week from this critical team win!

Rewarding Stellar Performance - Weekly. So, who gets to spin the wheel? Well, that enviable honor belongs to the winner of the Gordon Swanson trophy. Who’s that your ask? Well he’s the winner of the 1959 Bass championship in New Hampshire (fact check). We purchased a team trophy on Ebay and have awarded it weekly to the outstanding member of the team who went above and beyond that week with their team performance. The “Swanson” for a given week is awarded during our all hands weekly meeting on Monday morning – in front of everyone – and each week’s winner is tracked.

Given to the team member who goes above and beyond each week.
The Gordon Swanson Award

Morale Improvement Mechanisms. If you wait for your team to ask for a break, it’s too late. If you’re waiting for your team to tell you they’re burned out, it’s too late. It became apparent that we needed a reward mechanism for the sustained high performance, recognizing how much we’ve actually accomplished over weeks and months, and taking some time to smell the preverbal roses.

To accomplish this, we setup a “fun committee”. The committee’s goal was to identify team outings, happy hours, fun activities, and spend down a monthly budget dedicated to team activities. Once we got this out of management’s hands and into the team’s purview, things exploded, the creativity, fun, and ownership over our team outings really hit its stride.

What did we learn about building reward systems?

1. Make it fun. Make it fun. Make it fun.

2. Give the team the power to choose but set them up with guidelines on what can and can’t be done.

3. Give the team a mechanism for input into the rewards they want – it doesn’t make sense to try to figure out what motivates a group – let them tell you.

4. Build evolution into it. Don’t plan on getting things right the first time, and plan on your team’s reward centers to change.

As you can see, adopting agile doesn’t have to be a big deal, but I assure you the results very much can be, if properly incentivized to fit your teams’ culture and motivations.

This is part 2 of 3, in a blog series focused on agile teams. In the next installment we'll be doing a deep dive into the actual findings from months and months of rigorous tweaking and testing - using the Bear Analytics team as a guinea pig!

Interested in learning more about how we did it, you can reach us at