Performance Management Blog

Generating Intrinsic Motivation and Active Engagement
Celebrate the implementation of round wheels but note that continuous improvement is needed and necessary

Intrinsic Motivation is the real driver of performance. And, Active Engagement is a critical component of improving organizational results. So, here are a variety of ideas.

If you are a regular reader of my blogs, you know that we write extensively on issues of teamwork, active involvement, continuous innovation and implementation. And we try to focus a lot on the issue of the interactions between the hands-on workers and their supervisors, since all the work gets done by the former and all the management of the working environment gets done by the managers and their bosses.

This interface between worker and manager is a key one. It is influenced by all the other things up and about, but it is really that supervisor that controls most things, including the alignment of the workplace to the missions and goals of the organization, providing the feedback about performance to the people. It is the supervisor who makes the time to understand issues and possible improvements and who controls the recognition and support for individual. The manager and the teams are who handle the ideas for potential improvements.

My basic metaphor builds on the themes found in this image:

Square Wheels® are a registered trademark of Performance Management Company

For the past 30 years, we have been using the Square Wheels® metaphor to better understand the environment and the interactions among the players. Workers push. Leaders pull. Communication is difficult and visions differ. The paradox is that things work, but they do not work smoothly and there are better ideas already in the wagon that could be implemented. Workers are more apt to understand many of those ideas but involvement of the leadership is critical to their implementation. Doing things the same way will generate the same result.

We first used line-art illustrations for our workshops and toolkits; the simplicity lent itself to effectiveness and that people saw what they saw. The image and metaphors work as a Rorschach Test: people project their ideas onto the cartoons. A group of 6 people at a tabletop will actually surprise themselves with all the different ideas they can generate from a simple discussion around the image. And it is the diversity of these ideas that are the real power underlying how the image and metaphor really works.

Ten or so years ago I had a conversation with Hakan Forss and we both started playing with LEGO to help illustrate some of our ideas. From 2016 through 2022, I used LEGO as a tool to add some color to my Square Wheels line art while he used the blocks to frame up his works on other aspects of people and performance. Now, PMC uses some new artwork to illustrate the same themes.

“How organizations really work,” now looks something like the one on the right:


Some thoughts on People and Performance and the Square Wheels® approach to intrinsic motivation / ownership and the issues around active engagement

The reality is that the Round Wheels already exist as cargo of the wagon. We find that asking for ideas shows that many have already been considered by the people pushing the wagon. They know things can be improved, and I will never forget when I showed up for a consulting job and one of the workers gave me a little notebook of maybe 50 different things that needed to be addressed. People know what does not work smoothly and what needs to be improved, and this was 15 years before I started using the metaphor.

The paradox / reality is that the more of these round wheels IN the wagon, the more difficult it is to move forward; the message here is that unused and unimplemented ideas will bog down an organization, making even regular progress more difficult. And the related issue is the ROPE, which tends to isolate and insulate the wagon puller from the reality of the journey forward and which makes communication difficult. So, one tip for performance improvement is:

Don’t Just DO Something, Stand There!

Occasionally, stop and take the time to involve and engage everyone in ideas for improvement and in alignment to the missions, visions, goals and objectives, since we know that those are critical aspects for generating motivation and engagement. The image and metaphor of Square Wheels is a really powerful one for involving and engaging people in workplace improvement.

Five years ago, I generated 6 simple Posters using the LEGO image that anchor to some key questions managers need to ask in order to keep things rolling forward. What I just did, for this package anchored to building trust, is to update them with the new images.


A poster using the Square Wheels 2022 color images

A poster using the Square Wheels 2022 color images

A poster using Performance Management Company's Square Wheels® 2022 color images

A poster using Performance Management Company's Square Wheels® 2022 color images

A poster using Performance Management Company's Square Wheels® 2022 color images

Who, What, Where, When, How and Why are generally the performance coaching questions we ask people (and ourselves). Asking them in a group will build better teamwork on creative innovation processes (lots of tools for this kind of thing) and will generate the peer support needed for generating ownership involvement and implementation of change.

Nobody Ever Washes A Rental Car!

We cannot expect people to be involved and engaged without a sense of ownership of the ideas and active participation in the implementation and testing of new ideas. People want to help polish the wagon and make things work better. But they are often risk-averse and want to get recognition for their efforts and ideas.

What we need to do is ask them for their ideas, help them polish them into something that can be implemented and support them in that implementation process. Then, celebrate and start all over again!

Celebrate the implementation of round wheels but note that continuous improvement is needed and necessary


A couple of ideas from other blog posts:

Facilitation? Me, a Facilitator? Me, a MOTIVATOR? — Simple thoughts on manager as motivator and as a facilitator of ideas. An overview of a simple and bombproof approach to involvement and discussion as to why anyone can use our engagement tools.

Positive Possibilities — Square Wheels for Performance Improvement — a more detailed overview of how people think and how the cartoons help people frame their ideas. Some very simple ideas for facilitation.

Square Wheels — NOT some simple model of organizational performance — a somewhat detailed overview of how the illustrations work to involve and engage people, with typical reactions and responses to illustrate the depth of thinking that can occur.


I trust that you might find some of these tools to be of interest and that our approach to motivation makes sense. It is not extrinsic rewards that will drive positive long-term organizational performance but the continuous involvement and engagement of the people doing their work.

You might also find this article on Presenteeism to be of interest,

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools.
Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant who is trying to retire!! He now lives in Cuenca, Ecuador.

You can reach Scott at

Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.

Here is a 2-minute overview of our new online, virtual team building game:

The exercise has many links to the themes of trust (within and between teams) with a strong focus on trust in the leadership and on collaboration between the teams. This is THE world-class exercise anchored to these elements, based on three decades of client feedback.

logo for Lost Dutchman Virtual online edition


This text is a link to a press release about The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine teambuilding exercise and its 30 years of impacting people and performance.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company
The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is a trademark of Performance Management Company
Square Wheels images © Performance Management Company, 1993 – 2023. All rights reserved.
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Company.

Dr. Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of the amazing Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine team building game and the Square Wheels facilitation and engagement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced global presenter. -- You can reach Scott at and a detailed profile is here: -- Scott is the original designer of The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine teambuilding game and the Square Wheels® images for organizational development.

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1 Comment

  1. Ali Thiab

    Amazing illustration for a very powerful ideas


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