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I run a small site that requires constant work with two other co-founders. What we do is meet every week to talk about what's been done and plan the next week. The goal set here is always very objetive, such as getting 300 backlinks by the end of the week, so we can easily tell when it wasn't met. In case one of us can't meet the goal, the punishment applied is doing double the original goal + the amount that was left to complete. That means if I did only 200, I'd have to do 2*300+100.

The objetive here is to keep everyone busy and build a traction untill the site has enough users to run on it's own. Important to say that only I handle the programming.

The Problem

Obviously, the punishment limits a lot what we can actually do during the week, althought it can be very effective in delivering the expected result. What would you recommend to use as an alternative to this so the range of activities can be expanded?

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This type of punishment system doesn't really seem like it would help build a team dynamic - quite the contrary. I believe it was The 7 Habits book from Covey wherein he describes a sales force who was offered a reward to the individual with the most sales. This led to backstabbing, stealing each other's clients, etc. - because the individuals, who were supposed to be a team, were competing against each other. In this scenario you are competing against yourself - but with a potentially geometric increase of pressure - which, eventually, will lead to a feeling of insurmountable odds and giving up. Your goal is 300 - you don't make it - now you have to do 700...what happens if you only get 300? 2*400+100 - now you have to get 900?

Try to find ways to make the goal for the whole team - 900 link backs - and the punishment non-geometric in increase and, again, for the whole team. By doing this those who are simply better at the task will make up for the less-skilled members of the team in that area of measurement. Going back to that line I've seen recently attributed to Einstein - Everybody is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree...

Also, try to establish a team goal relevant to an individual strength each member possesses. For example, maybe you're really good at creating content that gets back links. Maybe someone else in the team is really good at writing code. Maybe the last person is really good at networking. Set 3 goals: (1) 300 back links; (2) 50% reduction in the number of defects released into the wild (character encoding issues, I don't know your situation well enough to give concrete examples); (3) increase traffic from networking sites by 10%.

Make the punishments for the whole team - all for one and one for all - but don't make it an increase on the goal itself...that just leads to problems. (You couldn't get 10; so, now you have to get 20 - you couldn't get 20; so, now you have to get 30 - eventually someone is going to ask the question: Or, what? What will happen to me if I don't make it...the world hasn't ended from me not making it before. Will I get fired - might not be such a bad thing with these expectations. This happened to me recently in fact, it led to me doing 15 hour days for about a month until I finally said, "I'm done..." - the world didn't end, the client didn't fire my company, I didn't get fired from my company, and - funny enough - people stopped pressuring me.) And, just to suggest something completely out there - try a reward system instead.

If you all get more motivation from not wanting to get hit with a stick, okay. But, what's the carrot here? And, to Gruber's point regarding "if you really need the threat" - I would say, if you need to threaten or punish people to get them motivated - they probably shouldn't be there in the first place.

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It sounds like you're running a startup business together, although you don't explicitly state this.

If you really need the threat of punishments to work hard, begin by finding metrics that objectively determine whether somebody puts in unacceptably low effort. That is very hard, and all founders must agree (in writing). Then you could stipulate that the punishment is that shares of your company are transferred from the free-rider to the other founders for free. That punishment will not require any extra resources, but it is one that truly hurts.

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Co-founders are already given lots of incentives in the form of money and acknowledgement. If they can't meet the target, initiatives in the form of punishment won't help. I see that you're trying to make sure nobody is freeloading here, but if you guys have enough self-motivation to enforce the punishment, you should have enough self-motivation to do it without any punishment.

Don't try to catch up "as a punishment". If everyone fails to meet the targets, you should be revising to see if the targets are realistic. A good target is accomplishable and shouldn't spiral geometrically out of proportion. You will feel exhausted and think that you're not accomplishing anything. The fastest way to spiral into unproductivity is by exhausting yourself trying to catch up.

Instead of punishing those who don't do their side, maybe reward the person who is doing the most. If someone is doing 600 backlinks a week, and everyone else is doing half as many, both of the ones doing less than 300 have to treat the guy to a good dinner, polish his car, or some other light, beneficial reward.

Before you realize it, everyone will be competing to do more. You might even find that one person is capable of doing the work of 3 people; it might be best to have him/her specialize on this in the future, while the rest of you work on other critical elements.

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It sounds like the nature of this work is a repetitive and boring task that is being done by intelligent people, so creating a game may work. This really depends on the competitive nature of everyone involved. You may have to provide either a material or some other incentive. Not everyone is interested or cares about the same things. One person would want to go leave early if they hit their mark. Another would want tickets to a sporting event (and send text messages to the losers the whole time telling them how much fund they're having).

Hopefully, you know each other well enough to come up with something that will make everyone put in the effort. Reinforcers are the things that increase a wanted behavior and not the things you "think" will work.

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