Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

All humans have a basic set of needs that they have to satisfy in order to survive. These needs go beyond just ‘food, water, and oxygen’, to encompass other needs which include psychological and emotional needs. Having one’s needs satisfied is of utmost importance, because a deficiency in any need would lead to a clearly negative outcome, as in the case of insufficient food leading to starvation.

There are many models that attempt to explain how needs define a human being, and how needs drive people’s thoughts and actions. For our purposes Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs model should suffice.

The below figure of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was developed between 1943 and 1953. There are later models adapted from this one, meant to further streamline the hierarchy, with additions such as Cognitive, Aesthetic, and Transcendence Needs. However, this simplest one suffices as later models have a tendency to overcomplicate matters.


 Figure 1 Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s model is based on the assumption that everyone is motivated by his needs, where the most basic are inborn, linked to individual survival. People need to satisfy one stage of needs before being able to moving on to the next. Thus, a person has to satisfy his basic Physiological Needs before moving on to satisfy his Safety and Security Needs, so on and so forth. It is only when such lower order needs are fulfilled and the individual’s physical and emotional well-being is satisfied, that the individual is able to concern himself with higher order needs such as those of Self-esteem.

Likewise, it is also part of the model, though unstated, that should the conditions that satisfy lower order needs be removed from an individual’s environment, the individual will no longer be concerned about higher order needs.

The main flaw with Marlow’s Hierarchy of Needs is that is that it presumes linear progression and fails to acknowledge the inherent complexity of human beings. For instance, a homeless person who has difficulties satisfying his physiological needs, may also long for a sense of belonging. A more nuanced stance is to say that people can move up and down the hierarchy, or even have multiple needs that have to be satisfied at one point in time.

However, the model is still useful in application, especially when it comes to team building. The model, while not definitive, provides guidelines to identify a team member’s needs. For instance, if a person is depressed due to the termination of a relationship and he thus needs love and a sense of belonging, the rest of the team can satisfy the need by giving encouragement or just a shoulder to lean on, thereby mitigating any negative effects that could have culminated from his emotional instability.

Now that you know more about needs and how it affects team dynamics, take a moment to reflect: what does your team need?