In a study popularized by Frans de Waal's 2014 TED Talk, two monkeys were given a simple task: take a rock from a researcher, give it back, and then collect their reward. For the monkeys, it was a pretty good gig: in exchange for a few seconds of minimal effort, they would each receive a delicious snack. But there was a catch. One monkey received a cucumber, while the other received a much-preferred grape. Mere minutes into the exercise, the monkey receiving the cucumber began to protest this perceived inequity. Rather than accept the cucumber reward, the monkey responded by throwing it back at the researcher.
Just a few moments earlier, this monkey was perfectly content to receive a delicious cucumber in exchange for this minimal effort task. However, after seeing his companion receive an even better reward in exchange for the same effort, he resigned in protest. Why would this monkey give up a perfectly good reward -- at his own expense -- just because the other was receiving a slightly better one? And what can this anecdote teach us about building effective engineering teams?
This talk will cover the basics of equity theory, a theory of motivation that argues that both monkeys and software engineers match their level of effort with their perceived reward. We'll explore how to discover your team's grapes and cucumbers, what the best managers do to retain their top talent and ways you can make your team both happier and more productive.