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How to Motivate a Team

You can have the most talented team in the world. But without the motivation, it’s unlikely that your team will reach the heights that they are truly capable of.


When people are motivated, they are more likely to give the best of themselves to the workplace, and be highly engaged with work. Studies show that motivated people have a more positive attitude at work and are more adaptable to change. They are likely to improve performance and profit.


In this article you’ll gain an insight into:

  1. The psychology of motivation

  2. What motivates different people

  3. Your own core motivations

  4. Your team members’ motivations

  5. 10 ways to motivate a team and become a better leader


You’ll find different ideas about what motivation is, depending on where you look.


Here are a few:

  • The desire to act in service of a goal” - Psychology Today

  • The impetus that gives purpose or direction to behaviour and operates in humans at a conscious or unconscious level” according to the APA

  • Motivation is our drives to seek pleasure and avoid pain” - The Pleasure Principle, Sigmund Freud

  • Motivation is what makes us want to do things and keep going until we achieve our goals” - Chat GPT, Open AI.


What drives our motivations?


1. Our Core Values

Each of us have a unique set of core values, which include the beliefs and principles that are most important to us. These can be big motivators in our everyday lives.


For example, some of us are driven by financial success, others by learning and development, some by building connections and strong relationships, and others by helping others.


So, if someone values personal development, they may feel most motivated when they are learning new things and becoming better at what they do.


On the other hand, if someone values being helpful to others, they may feel most motivated when they are supporting their colleagues from different parts of the business, rather than doing independent work.


Having an insight into peoples’ motivations is a great opportunity to understand when they will be most engaged with their work.



2. Moving “Towards” and “Away from” specific situations

We're typically motivated to work towards something either because of its perceived benefits (AKA "towards motivation"), or to avoid a certain outcome (AKA “Away from” motivation).


For example, some of us are driven to succeed at work by the desire to get promoted, while some of us are driven by our strong desire not to fail.


Many financially successful people have been driven to achieve their success through their strong motivation to get away from a financially strained childhood.



Potential drawbacks of “Away from” motivation

Some argue that when we're working towards a big goal, Away From motivation may work against us.


This is because when we want to avoid negative consequences, we may be focusing too much on what we don’t want to happen.


This may make us less likely to focus on taking action towards what we do want to happen.


In addition, some argue that once we have moved away from what we don’t want, we may lose motivation because we no longer have that negative consequence to drive us. This is a common phenomenon in weight loss, where people may initially be highly motivated to lose weight to avoid negative health consequences, but once they have achieved their desired weight, they may revert to old habits and regain the weight lost.


3. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations

Intrinsic motivation is the drive to pursue an action because it is inherently interesting/enjoyable to you. For example, the person who enjoys playing the guitar purely for the joy and satisfaction of creating music, without any external rewards or pressure to do so.


Or, the writer who writes for the love of writing and the creative process, rather than for money or fame. In both cases, the motivation to engage in these activities comes from within and is driven by the enjoyment and fulfillment that the activity itself provides.


Extrinsic motivation is when external factors encourage you to achieve a goal. Pay rises, bonuses, or the threat of job loss can be extrinsic motivators to different people.


Research highlights that when the reward is extrinsic, innovation and creativity are often stifled, which can work against ideation and productivity.


How can I motivate my team?

As the manager and leader of your team, one of your most important objectives is to keep your team members motivated and engaged with their work. Here are a selection of tried and tested techniques to help you motivate your team members:


10 steps to develop your motivational abilities and become a better leader


1. Understand how your beliefs and views influence your team


What you believe about your team members will affect the way you lead/manage them.


Do you have the mindset that your team needs close supervision? Or do you believe that autonomy will help your team to achieve their objectives?


There are two very different mindsets, dubbed as Theory X and Theory Y, by social psychologist Douglas McGregor in the 1960s.


  • Theory X: Manager assumes that their team members need constant supervision. They believe that people don’t want responsibility and need external incentives to produce good results.

  • Theory Y: Manager believes that team members want the ability to work autonomously, which will help them be a better contributor to the team. Team members should be a part of the decision making process - every individual has something of value to bring to the table.


It can be helpful to think about it from your own perspective – would you prefer your boss to manage you using Theory X or Theory Y? How would you feel working under each of these managerial styles?


2. Identify areas of dissatisfaction and and create satisfaction

According to American psychologist, Fredrick Herzberg, you can motivate your team by first resolving the elements of dissatisfaction in their roles, and then setting up the conditions that would lead to job satisfaction.


Herzberg, who became a highly influential name in business management, is known for the Motivation-Hygiene theory. This poses that people are often unhappy at their work because of poor company policies, over-supervision, lack of autonomy, among other factors. He highlighted that if you don’t resolve these issues first, initiatives to incentivise your team will likely be ineffective.


Once elements of dissatisfaction have been identified and addressed, managers can look at improving motivation levels.


3. Understand peoples’ motivations at the individual level

Understanding someone’s values and what drives them can be a powerful tool to help motivate them.


Each person on your team has their own unique motivations. Seek to learn and understand each individual’s motivations and you will be more likely to motivate them in a way that resonates.



4. Use the Pygmalion Effect

The Pygmalion Effect is a self-fulfilling prophecy that suggests that people's performance is directly linked to the expectations others have of them.


In line with this theory, as a leader, if you communicate high expectations to your team members, they are likely to perform better.


On the other hand, if you have low expectations, they may feel undervalued and their performance may suffer.


5. Understand strategic compensation

Money is a powerful motivator, and understanding strategic compensation can help you structure your team's extrinsic rewards to increase motivation.


There are different types of compensation, such as base pay, performance pay, and group-performance pay.


Each type has its own benefits and drawbacks, so it's essential to understand the differences and choose the best one for your team.


6. Use Amabile and Kramer's Progress Theory

According to this theory, people are most motivated when they feel they are making progress towards a meaningful goal.


As a leader, you can provide clear goals, autonomy, resources, time, support, and opportunities to learn from failure to help your team make progress and achieve small "wins." Celebrate these accomplishments to reinforce the importance of progress and motivate your team to keep working towards the larger goal.


Another important way to apply Amabile and Kramer's Progress Theory is to share a purposeful team vision.


And importantly, to share the purpose of each project with your team. This is a simple and effective technique to keep your team engaged, but not always followed through - and can cause confusion and irritation ("Why are we even doing this?!")


One of the most powerful ways to motivate your team is by giving them the understanding as well as making progress on a meaningful task.

7. Encourage your team to work independently

Giving your team appropriate levels of autonomy can boost their self-esteem, confidence, and performance.


Encourage your team members to manage their work and solve their own problems.


Provide clear guidelines and support, but allow them to take ownership of their work and make their own decisions.


This can increase their motivation and sense of responsibility.

8. Show that you care, and invest in their development

When teams feel seen and valued, and when they have opportunities for growth and development, they are more likely to be motivated.


As a leader, make sure to regularly check in with your team members, listen to their concerns, and provide support when needed.


Offer training and development opportunities to help your team members grow and develop their skills.


9. Apply a growth mindset

When business leaders demonstrate and cultivate a growth mindset, team members have greater trust and commitment to their organisation (Carol Dweck et al, Academy of Management Annual Meeting Proceedings, 2018).


What does a growth mindset involve?

This is the belief that your team's skills can be developed through work and persistence. This contrast with a fixed mindset - the belief that your qualities and talents are innate and unchangeable.


As a leader, you can model a growth mindset by setting ambitious (yet realistic) goals, rising to the challenge, learning from failures, and encouraging your team members to do the same.


10. Give specific feedback every day

Receiving specific feedback helps us satisfy our psychological need for feeling competent. When our efforts are acknowledged, we tend to feel more motivated and engaged with our work.


In contrast, studies show that lack of acknowledgement can be psychologically exhausting.


Skilfully giving frequent and specific feedback will help your team members understand where they stand in terms of their skills and performance, hopefully leading to a sense of competence and fulfillment as they move towards their goal.


Research also shows that immediate, specific, and public praise focusing on effort and behaviour, rather than traits, can be highly effective in energising employees to reach their full potential. Rewarding the person who did well with more responsibility has also shown to have a positive impact on their engagement (Anderson 2018).



Take action

Now that you have an insight into the psychology of motivation and some of the most effective techniques to motivate your team, it's time to create a plan of action. You can start by reflecting on the following questions:

  • What are your top takeaways from this article?

  • What is one thing you could do to motivate your team over the next week?

When you understand the psychology of motivation and start applying these valuable techniques appropriately, you'll be on your way to becoming a motivational leader, with the ability to raise your team to new heights.


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