The Motivational Power Of Working In Pods

Nameless, faceless, hulking behemoths–the more successful your company gets, the smarter it might be to organize it in pods.

The Motivational Power Of Working In Pods

If you’re looking for thoughts about the way people work, look to Dave Gray, whose book The Connected Company helps organizations arrange for maximal ass-kickery. In a new post on Medium, he shares a few of those insights about motivation.


When we think about motivation at work, Gray says, awful phrases like “incentive plans” get bandied about. We talk about extrinsic factors like compensation, bonuses, and goals. These are all obviously great, but they miss out on intrinsic motivation, like Dan Pink talks about in Drive. Gray paraphrases Pink–and I’ll paraphrase him here–saying that in a complex, new-solution-centric world, the intrinsic motivations of mastery, autonomy, and purpose are at the core of motivation. The key, then, for proper alignment is a balance of these motivating factors.

“The great innovators in business did not succeed on creativity alone,” Gray writes, “their success was a blend of creative thinking and business logic.”

So if you want to set a context to bring out your teams’ inner Edisons, you need to align their incentives in three ways:

  • Incentives need to breed visible impacts on the business as whole
  • Incentives need to balance short- and long-term thinking
  • Incentives need to reward people for doing what makes the business as a whole more successful and healthier

In this way, a person’s individual work is linked to the collective endeavor. They get personal expression and collective validation. They’re incented to do their best work, for themselves and for the organization. So what does that look like?

Make everybody an owner

Gray has a nifty neologism: podular organization. For Gray, we don’t want top-down, divisional organization–sales behind this wall, operations down this hallway, IT on the next floor, customer service across the ocean–or what we call “silos” around these parts. Instead, you want little amoeba-like pods, where each of these roles is put together into a unit. His ode to the pod is org psych poetry:

A podular organization is a fractal organization: every pod is an autonomous fractal unit that represents, and can function on behalf of, the business as a whole.

Strange and beautiful, right? So how’s it get done?

Plenty of ways, though it’s an organizational innovation at the early part of the adoption curve. A French manufacturer has already mastered the art of bosslessness. Gray says Nordstrom’s employed the pods in their high-touch textiles. And Valve is doing it in games.


In this way, Gray says, pods give people a business within the business–making awards tangible, balancing long- and short-term benefits, and uniting personal to organizational interests. Sounds like a great structure, especially if you happen to have a bunch of brilliant people who hate to be bossed around.

A business within the business

[Image: Flickr user Dennis Brekke]


About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.