Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation

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Motivation can be defined as “the need or reason for doing something.”[1] Understanding that not everyone is equally motivated by money, social life, and awards, is crucial for project managers to increase project team performance. "Motivation can inspire, encourage, and stimulate individuals and project teams to achieve great accomplishments. Motivation can also create an environment that fosters teamwork and collective initiatives to reach common goals or objectives." [2] Motivated teams, are likely to be persistent, creative, and productive.[3]

The purpose of this article is to dive into the concept of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, the 16 universal human needs, and provide a guide with their practical implication on team management. Starting from the theory of human motivation of A.H. Maslow, this paper shows the characteristics of basic needs and their hierarchy of prepotency arrangement. Subsequently, the distinction of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations is carried out and the concept of multifaceted motivation is tackled.


Types of Motivations

Theory of human motivation – Maslow

Maslow's hierarchy of human needs - image[4] adapted by Maria Elena Igarzabal

Maslow’s pyramid[5] was created in 1943 and in a graphic way, categorizes human motivations into five sets of goals, which are called basic needs. These are physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization. Additionally, the author suggests that the needs must be satisfied in ascending order from the bottom of the pyramid.

According to this theory, "as needs are met, new ones emerge". This is why the basic needs are arranged according to its hierarchy of prepotency. In this sense, the pyramid shows a path that must be fulfilled to achieve happiness. The search for desired elements will be what generates motivation. It also suggests that the basic goals are related to each other, meaning that if all needs are unsatisfied and the organism is then dominated by physiological needs, all further needs may become non-existent or be pushed into the back. A person that is extremely tired and has not slept for a drastic amount of time, its organism will focus all its energy on achieving restful sleep.

Team Management

When leading a team, this theory can be used to generate motivation as follows:

  • Basic needs satisfied: building a comfortable workplace. Essential elements include access to a restroom, drinking water, breaks to eat meals and snacks, the same as a steady and competitive salary and pension plan. It’s also important to feel that physical safety is valued and prioritized. For instance, the use of ergonomic office furniture that properly supports employees reduces the risk of injury.
  • Developing a sense of belonging and social interaction. This can be achieved throw several methods. Nowadays, companies use for example Social gatherings and games, lounge with coffee/tea and snacks at the office, flexible working hours and Work-life balance programs.
  • Feedback and career development: setting higher goals for the team and creating career paths that provide growing, advancing and achieving results promotes esteem. When team members have confidence in their abilities and receive positive feedback and encouragement, they are more likely to succeed.


Many of the investigations associated with "The theory of human needs" neither deliver data that can certify nor guarantee the success of Maslow´s pyramid. The idea that the hierarchy order is fixed, does not apply equally to everybody according to its personality, aspirations, or context. It is necessary also to highlight that a routine or habit that has satisfied a specific need for a long period of time, may lead to a reversal hierarchy effect as this need becomes undervalued. Furthermore, is more realistic that a need is not 100% fulfilled until a new one emerges and the degree of relative satisfaction depends on each individual.

Motivation Theories

Several theorists categorize motivation into two broad categories, which can be named intrinsic and extrinsic. When a young boy is playing basketball just because he wants to, it could be defined as intrinsic motivation. The kid is motivated to play and playing this sport is a recompense on its own. Now, when the child plays in order to please a parent or win a championship, the motivation is extrinsic and refers to the pursuit of an instrumental goal. The incentive that motivates the child to play comes from the prize or recompense obtained. In this example, the youngster does not need to enjoy every match because the reward itself is what generates satisfaction.[6]

Intrinsic Motivations

Intrinsic motivations are based on the simple desire or satisfaction of an action. The person that does the action actively decides to do it and simply enjoys the experience without any external reward. Nonsurvival needs such as curiosity, competence, autonomy and play, constitute intrinsic motivation. "The phenomenon of intrinsic motivation reflects the primary propensity of organisms to engage in activities that interest them, and in so doing, to learn, develop and expand their capacities.[...] Intrinsically motivated behavior is a significant feature of human nature and plays an important role in development, high-quality performance and well-being."[7] However, intrinsic motivation does not imply that human beings do not search for rewards. The idea of this concept suggests that external rewards are not enough to keep a person motivated.

Team Management

According to different authors, there are three key elements that lead to better performance and personal satisfaction, enhancing intrinsic motivation: Autonomy, Self-Development, and Purpose. Furthermore, different models and techniques can be distinguished to intrinsically enhance motivation in oneself and others.[4] The concepts and description on how to implement these models in a business environment, are detailed in the table below.

Intrinsic Motivation Models
Model Concept Implementation
Optimism A positive visualization of personal capacities can convince the mind that things can be done by yourself. "If you want, you have the tools to overcome failures and try, you can". Intrinsic motivation begins with the perception of inner power in the pursuit of a goal. 1 - Generate a change of focus by going from complaint to positive visualization. This can be achieved by directly asking, e.g. What do you need from this project for you to feel good about yourself?
2 - Create a capability scenario. Through active listening and empathy, lead the conversation to merits and skills the person has.
3 - Guide towards awareness. Let the person find and show you their own capabilities for the situation analyzed.
4 - Build reinforcement of skills and call to action by setting up a short-term itinerary. e.g. I know that you are an organized person, how are going to convince yourself now?
Knowledge Knowledge is a strong intrinsic motivator. Wanting to know more is something inherent to the human being. The desire to know is related to the basic needs of humankind and has allowed us to evolve and be more capable every day. The knowledge model is based on the primal instinct to acquire wisdom that enables us to be more prepared to endure with quality in our environment. Everyone wants to know more, although not everyone wants to know about the same things or learn from everything. To stimulate the intrinsic motivation of any person through knowledge, two key elements must be targeted: the attractiveness of the story and the benefit that will be obtained from it.
  • When creating an attractive story that makes others want to know more, genuine motivation can be generated for themselves. To boost a narrative, it is useful to use visual examples when speaking, discovering unknown secrets, and above all, showing by example and making others live the experience. Furthermore, it is important to think about the interests of the other person, or your own, and create a formula that is based on "understanding by doing" and discovering by enjoying.
  • To enhance the benefit, a final result, that can be used in all aspects of life, should be clearly pointed out. In this way, the knowledge model will be acting and unleashing the intrinsic motivator.
Fun Time flies when an activity is fun and enjoyable. In this situation, our perception of reality modifies the very essence of time and space to the point of transforming it and making our brain believe that it has passed like a flash.
Having fun ends up being the most powerful source for its repetition. However, fun is not a constant and permanent element, and it must be worked every day with a positive attitude. Our brains must be educated to activate this intrinsic motivator based on the fun model, something not especially easy to educate, but eternal once assimilated.
Motivation is linked to our perception of fun, and this begins with our positive attitude, so we must work on establishing and building a correct choice through the following method:
  • Simplicity: Eliminate what seems superfluous. The goal is to guide people towards creating solutions free from judgments, personal beliefs, or other elements that only add noise to their thoughts.
  • Relativity: Focus the action on what is truly important, understanding the importance according to what is happening.
  • Positiveness: Focus the action on the good side of things. Think about what unites the team, the situation, or the person, rather than what separates them. Build from positive elements towards new scenarios.
  • Excitement: Motivate others to achieve milestones that satisfy, amuses and generate them a sense and pride of belonging.
  • Modification: Eradicate what has not been able to modify with any of the previous actions. That which cannot be simplified does not have a focus on which to relativize, does not provide a positive side, or cannot be turned into a challenge to get excited about, simply must disappear or be substantially modified.

In this model, it is important to emphasize that people should not give up on enjoying what they do.

Self-esteem As human beings, we live along with the constant judgment of our abilities and achievements, either towards others or even ourselves. “Self-esteem” is the appreciation that we make of ourselves based on the sensations and experiences that we have acquired throughout life. The model of self-esteem is based on the development of personal potential and pursuit of achievements, built from a positive self-assessment. People who have high self-esteem are able to face and come out stronger from the challenges and responsibilities. In contrast, those who have low self-esteem tend to self-limit, procrastinate and even fail.
To boost self-esteem, problem-solving is a key activity to work on. Attributing to a person the ability to solve a problem or a crisis and helping on its successful execution, is a double win. In the first place for managing to overcome an obstacle. Afterward, every time that person is reminded that the problem no longer exists in the present because of the work done successfully in the past. People's self-esteem rises when considering life from the successes and not from failures.
Pasion Passion is a very powerful motivation element associated with the feeling of belonging or sense towards something. It is what provokes us to make things happen, to conquer elements that for others are irrelevant. This model brings together the desire to enjoy the execution, the pleasure of creation, and achievement with the feeling of belonging and pride. This model can be implemented through these actions:
  • Generate curiosity. When managing teams, is important to generate expectation, curiosity, and aspiration. Generating curiosity is providing the necessary information to make others want to know more, but being sensitive enough not to overdo it.
  • Use participatory creativity. Do things in a different way than expected. Is great to have a good conversation with a friend, but if it is carried out every day, in an identical way, and with the same topic, it loses its punch. Strategically defining how, where and when tasks are performed generates more passion unleashing creativity.
  • Lean on achievement. Two workers with the same tasks can have different opinions about the purpose of their work and its relevance to the final product. Knowing the importance each and everyone has on the final result generates a sense of belonging, and increases intrinsic motivation through passion.
  • Simplify activities. Challenges should exist. However, it is tough to feel passion for what seems extremely complicated. If unnecessary bureaucracy is eliminated, there is more time to enjoy the task completion.
  • Spread out energy. Gather people who are passionate about an activity or topic. Have them share time, conversations, secrets, tricks. This will inspire and load them with energy.
Legacy Legacy is the feeling of transcendence of the actions we carry out. That is, to go one step further, to excel, to overcome an established limitation, or to improve collective conditions.
The legacy-based intrinsic motivator, transforms the feeling of individual usefulness into something remarkable and worthwhile.
This model is based on building on future memory, hence, some trigger questions can be implemented to achieve intrinsic motivation:
  • "When you are no longer on this team, how would you like to be remembered?" - Focus on transcendency
  • "How would that help others?" - Focus on commitment and responsibility
  • "How do you plan to accomplish the action" - Focus on resolution and perseverance.

A fascinating element in this model is the stimulation of what is memorable. Having created an idyllic setting with a tangible transcendence picture, this element can be used through specific words to maintain active stimulus and, therefore, motivation.

Extrinsic Motivations

Extrinsically motivated activities are performed to reach a goal, obtain a reward, avoid a penalty or a negative consequence.

When extrinsically motivated, individuals are not necessarily driven by enjoyment or satisfaction since the idea of a recompense itself generates gratification. Thus, intrinsic and extrinsic motivations are complementary to each other, since, although the reward can help initiate an action, the intrinsic motivation will allow the enjoyment of the action itself and, therefore, cause it to last longer.

In Self Determination: Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development and Well-Being (1985) Deci and Ryan specify four types of extrinsic motivation and how they vary in terms of the degree to which they have been internalized.

Types of Extrinsic Motivation

Types of extrinsic motivation and its internalization through self-determination[7]
  • External Regulation: Form of motivation that is frequently known as extrinsic motivation. In this stage, autonomy does not exist and the purpose of an action is to obtain a reward or avoid a punishment. Externally regulated behaviour appears in strictly controlled environments driven by external sources of pressure and obligations
  • Introjected Regulation: The main goal in this type of motivation still is achieving an external demand, however, the reward is internal. Behaviour is driven by internal pressures such as ego involvement or guilt. At this point, autonomy still does not exist and individuals do not really want to perform the activity.
  • Identified Regulation: even though external rewards drives this stage, it is the most self-determined form of extrinsic motivation. Individuals work with autonomy and have the ability to make decisions to reach the goal.
  • Process of Internalization: motivation that resembles the most to intrinsic motivation. Behaviour is driven by great autonomy. In this stage, goals are incorporated as their own, according to the person's value system.

Team Management

External rewards can be enough to keep a person motivated. For this reason, some models are detailed below for their understanding and activation.[4]

Extrinsic Motivation Models
Model Concept Implementation
Recognition and Reward We never stop experiencing the need to feel valued and rewarded for our actions, even when we feel independent and self-sufficient.
It is important that reward systems are designed according to the needs of individuals. Furthermore, it must be adequate to meet the needs of the team. Otherwise, people will not be happy or satisfied in the organization, since they tend to compare the reward systems with those of other organizations or even with those of their peers.
Extrinsic motivation elements that can be incorporated to incentivize a team can be monetary and non-monetary. Within this last category, a qualitative system can be designed including, for example:
  • Flexible working hours and home-office options
  • Gifts or gift cards aligned with goals or metrics
  • Free time or additional vacation days
  • Training and education programs
  • At-office incentives: yoga classes, gym, hairdressers, game lounge, or other activities that help release stress
  • Canteen
  • Recognition on social media
Reputation Reputation as an extrinsic motivator is associated with earning peers' recognition or social status. It relates to the desire that those who observe our work admire the professionalism, not out of vanity, but under a parameter of recognition. An experiment was carried out to compare how different motivators and their effectiveness on knowledge sharing in a group meeting. As the main conclusion, it showed that "a knowledge management system with built-in reputation feedback is crucial to support successful knowledge sharing during meetings"[8]
Power In this model, power and authority are fundamental elements. A motivating leader must always have the power of the situation while influencing people with good authority. That is why, to motivate teams with the power model, it is necessary to induce people to those fields in which their capacity is being developed. Power has a specific meaning according to each individual. For some people, power is associated with the ability to influence others and can be quantified, for example, with the number of employees they have as subordinates. In other cases, power is directly related to financial capacity or freedom. Furthermore, there are those who link power with the transcendency of their actions.

Extrinsic motivation through power and authority can be achieved by balancing delegation of tasks and follow-up, support, coaching, and recognition. These elements combined must have a clear itinerary for development, promotions, and rewards associated with a career plan. The Situational Leadership Model (Hersey & Blanchard 1969) proposes a progression of leadership adaptation in response to the development of followers and can be applied to generate extrinsic motivation.


Team managers need to be able to balance others' needs and motivations. Understanding the theories, models, and tools is crucial, however perceiving what is necessary and how to adapt it to people, circumstances, and goals of the project, requires curiosity, active listening, and proactivity.

With regard to the project phase, intrinsic motivation is presumed to be more important creative stages of the process, such as problem presentation and idea generation. Usually, employees show great excitement during the initial creation stages. However, their motivation can fade away during the bureaucratic process of defining the last details to fully develop, validate, and clearly communicate the idea. Some extrinsic motivators, such as deadlines or rewards and recognition can generate engagement with the final outcome.

"In other words, intrinsic motivation may be essential for novelty in the work, but some degree of some types of extrinsic motivation can help to ensure that the output will be timely, complete, and useful".[3]

Multifaceted Motivations

According to the author of Reiss Motivation Profile (RMP)[6], Steve Reiss, human motives are too diverse to fall into just 2 categories. Furthermore, Reiss suggests that all human motivation arises from an intrinsic source. In this way, Reiss and Havercamp (1998) conducted factor-analytic studies to identify 16 universal human needs and create a "16 psychrometric scale of a standardized assessment tool"[6]. According to this multifaceted theory, everybody is motivated by the 16 universal reinforcements, however, not in like manner. The way each individual prioritizes reinforcement has a practical association.

Annotated bibliography

Ruben Turienzo, El pequeño libro de la motivación, Grupo Planeta, 2016
This book covers a wide variety of strategies used in leadership, communication, and team motivation to improve business performance. Insightful chapters within the text include “Intrinsic Motivations”, “Extrinsic Motivations”, and “Motivation theories you should know how to use”. The author studied History of Art and has a master's in Evolutionary Psychology and Executive Coaching. He is an expert on motivation oriented towards results, he is an international speaker, trainer, and writer.
Teresa M. Amabile, Motivational Synergy: Toward new conceptualizations of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in the workplace, Brandeis University, Human Resource Management Review, vol. 3-num. 3, pp.185-201.,1993 1993
This research article describes a model for motivational synergy. The paper outlines implications for management practice and management development. The model shows that synergistic motivational combinations can positively impact employees' satisfaction level and performance. The author received her doctorate in psychology from Stanford University in 1977. Her research covers creativity, productivity, innovation, and how daily life influences people and their performance.


  1. Cambridge University, Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus, .
  2. T. M. Peterson, Motivation: how to increase project team performance, Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2007—North America, Atlanta, GA. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Teresa M. Amabile, Motivational Synergy: Toward new conceptualizations of intrinsic and extrinsin motivation in the workplace, Brandeis University, Human Resource Management Review,vol. 3-num. 3, pp.185-201.,1993
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Ruben Turienzo,El pequeño libro de la motivación, Grupo Planeta, 2016.
  5. A.H. Maslow, A theory of Human Motivation, Psychological Review 50, 370-396, 1943.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Steven Reiss, Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation, The generalist´s Corner, Society for the teaching of psychology.
  7. 7.0 7.1 C Levesque, K J Copeland, and M D Pattie Missouri State University MO-USA, E L Deci, University of Rochester, NY-USA, Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation, Elsevier Ltd 2010.
  8. Shin-Yuan Hung, Alexandra Durcikovab, Hui-Min Lai, Wan-Mei Lin, The influence of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation on individuals' knowledge sharing behavior, Elsevier Ltd 2009
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