Motivation is a long-term game and unfortunately for us, there is no quick fix. Rewards and salary increases are often fleeting and their motivational effects don’t usually last long, because the issues they are frustrated with or the lack of career progression are still there.
This means for leaders, motivating people can be a continuous struggle. It can sometimes be tempting to take your eye off your team’s motivation levels when things get busy.
However, this can be a dangerous game, because when motivation decreases in a team, it can sometimes be hard to get it back on track. In my experience, leaders (myself included) tend to make assumptions about their teams and their own leadership which can decrease motivation over the longer term.
In this post, I want to cover some of these damaging assumptions to raise awareness of the potential problems they can cause. Then, we can look at some ways of avoiding making these assumptions in our teams.
1. “My Team Knows What I’m Doing”
The first assumption that leaders make is that their teams understand what they are working on themselves. This assumption can decrease motivation because it means leaders are less likely to communicate their own activities to their team and keep them informed.
This is particularly relevant if you are working on team improvements, or trying to solve issues affecting the team.
Failing to communicate progress in these areas usually means team members will make their own assumptions.
Unfortunately, when team members aren’t aware of progress, they usually assume there is none.
While this may not actually be true, it can decrease motivation because perception is as good as reality.
Failing to Communicate Progress and Challenges Will Decrease Motivation
Most of the time, I’ve found team members to be quite resilient and supportive when they feel that progress is being made on key challenges or issues.
Therefore, if you have progress to share, be sure to do so. Don’t just assume your team members know what is happening. If on the other hand, you’re experiencing challenges or roadblocks, it can be helpful to share those too.
In this case, you may not have achieved the progress you wanted. However, sharing your challenges shows that you’re trying, which can make all the difference as it shows your team that you’re making an effort to improve the situation.
Learn More: 5 Communication Mistakes That Will Damage Your Leadership.
2. “My Team Wants the Same Things That I Do”
Another assumption that it’s easy to make as a leader is that your team members are chasing the same goals that you are. Unfortunately, the goals you have for your team and career are not necessarily the same as for your team members.
Does this mean that your team members aren’t aligned and should leave your team? Absolutely not.
I’ve found it useful for team members to understand the “What’s in it for me?” to really feel motivated in their roles. Team success is nice, but in reality, the success of the team is more likely to be attributed to your leadership than the people in the team itself, because you’re the one at the top.
Failing to Reinforce Individual Aspirations in Addition to Team Goals Will Decrease Motivation
This doesn’t mean that your team members don’t care about team success. But it does mean that they have individual needs and aspirations that need to be fulfilled if possible.
You need to understand individual team members’ aspirations and provide a pathway to achieve them. For more about this topic, read this post containing a Simple & Effective Model for Team Motivation.
I’ve seen some leaders exasperated when seeing a decrease in motivation in their teams. One leader once said to me “They should be grateful to have that role.”
Well, they weren’t grateful, because what that leader thought they should value about the role did not match the team member’s point of view.
When faced with this challenge, it’s always worth asking the simple question:
“What are my team members really getting out of their role right now, other than just the money?”
If the answer is “nothing”, don’t be surprised when you see motivation start to decrease.
3. “My Team Members Know I Appreciate the Work They Do”
Sometimes it’s easy to take team members for granted. Unfortunately, this is an easy way to forget the simple things that make people feel like a valued part of the team.
Failing to show appreciation for your team’s work can decrease motivation over time. It doesn’t always need to involve a grand gesture or a big show of thanks. Sometimes, it can be as simple as saying “Thank you” for work well done.
Obviously, you don’t want to make a huge display of thanks if someone has performed a minor task. Otherwise, people may see you as trying to curry favour with the team by being overly positive.
In fact, many team members will dismiss your gratitude because it’s “just doing my job”. However, it’s still valuable to show appreciation and even to emphasise why you consider their work important, even if it is just a normal part of their job.
After all, your role doesn’t even exist if not for the people in your team. So why not show your appreciation once in a while?
Learn More: Why leaders should show gratitude, even for the little things.
4. “My Team Doesn’t Know What’s Really Going On”
Sometimes leaders will make an attempt to conceal or withhold information about events happening in their workplace. This often isn’t done with malicious intent, but leaders do it to protect team members from worrying about factors outside of their control.
However, team members are perceptive. If you’re worried about something, you can bet someone in your team will notice. If there are restructures or people issues occurring, you can bet that your team members are talking about it, and might know a thing or two from their networks within the organisation.
Appearing Out of Touch Will Decrease Motivation In Your Team
This all means that you need to be careful when withholding information from your team. However, this doesn’t mean that team members need to know everything about what’s going on.
If you’re not careful, you may be perceived as being out of touch with what’s happening around you, or worse, completely delusional about things that may impact your team.
Leaders who appear out of touch or misguided can decrease motivation in a team, because the team feels less confident that their leader has the ability to be able to support them appropriately.
In one of my roles, there were some issues occurring in our workplace that were affecting our team. My manager was honest with us about them and said to me, “I can’t just pretend it’s all OK, because you’d think I was out of my mind.”
She was absolutely right. It can be a fine line to tread for leaders, but sometimes honesty is the best policy.
We all have a tendency to make assumptions at times. Usually it happens because it’s convenient and easy. When things get busy, we stop questioning and just assume.
Be sure to keep these four assumptions in mind to avoid unintentionally decreasing motivation in your team.
What assumptions do you think we make as leaders that can decrease motivation in our teams? Leave a comment and let me know below!
Alternatively, if you would like to ask a question or need some help, you can send me a private message through my contact page.
I think all of your points are relevant and spot on. I do believe that you may have left out the other assumption that gets leaders in trouble and ostracizes their influence: the assumption of effort/motivations of personnel. All too often I have seen where leaders will take a rumor about someone, without substantial or factual proof, and make that perception reality. This crushes a person’s morale and motivation. If the leader won’t take time to truly learn the truth then what else doesn’t matter and what else do they believe. It’s a slippery slope.
That’s a great addition – I’ve also seen this often in workplaces. As you say, it often destroys morale and leads to good people being overlooked for opportunities because of assumptions about their performance.
Sometimes I’ve noticed this creates a self-fulfilling prophecy – https://www.thoughtfulleader.com/self-fulfilling-prophecy/.
Thanks for the comment,
I would like to hear about keeping leaders and team members motivated while in self isloation.
I’ll see what I can do Nicole. Thanks for the comment.