5 steps to improve team motivation

improve team motivation with this fish
After this fish is eaten, your team will need something else to care about

Have you ever been in a situation where your team seems unmotivated and lacking in enthusiasm? It’s not a good place to be because your team is where the real work is done. If they’re not interested, you’re likely to be in trouble.


Understanding the motivation problem

In many cases, when you see demotivated teams, take a look at their situation and ask yourself three questions:

  1. Do they have work to do that is interesting?
  2. Do they have any long-term goals to aim for that don’t just involve keeping their job?
  3. Are they learning anything new?

If the answer to one or more of these is “no”, then you have a team motivation problem. Only a very rare team member can remain motivated without at least one of these three things.

Looking back on my own career, I managed to remain motivated during the hard times because I had a long-term focus of some kind. In my case it was aiming to improve my career and get promoted, but that doesn’t need to be the case to motivate everybody.

This is even more important in “never ending” operational roles. For example, if your company delivers projects for clients, these projects will finish and then new ones will take their place. People need to have a future to look forward to that doesn’t just involve working on a million projects. They need to be learning and developing alongside their day to day work.

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How to improve team motivation

I’ve never been a fan of buying things for my team or throwing big parties. I don’t believe that these actions really improve team motivation for the long term. Sure, I might buy people coffee once in a while for a job well done, but these are short term measures just to say “thank you”.

The secret to understanding how to improve team motivation is to give them a long-term view. To give them a reason to care about what they are doing. You need to give them a future that looks positive or at least, interesting.

It’s not all about promotions and more money, either. In fact, these are often unsustainable if you are working in a smaller team where there is no room for layers of leadership roles.

1. Improve team motivation by understanding what drives your team

Firstly, it is impossible to motivate your team if you don’t know what interests them, what they like or what their future goals are. Ask them. Find out.

Then try to align the work that they are doing with these goals. If it’s hard to get the team to open up about these, then throw some different projects at them to see what works…and what doesn’t.

Learning how to improve team motivation can be a process of trial and error.

2. Improve team motivation by learning something new

Send your team on training or get them to find a new way of doing something that they care about. Don’t just get them to do a course that they have no interest in. That’s not motivating, because they won’t be interested in using those skills in the future. Learning new skills means they can use them on future projects or in future roles.

It is more motivating for people to learn something useful than to collect fancy certificates. Stop worrying about whether they will develop new skills which may lead them to leaving your team. If they do, wish them well and say thank you.

3. Improve team motivation by delegating responsibility

Some people aren’t naturally proactive. They find it hard to “step up” and take on responsibility without somebody asking. Sometimes, it’s good to ask team members to be responsible for something in your team. They get to own it and they can have pride in seeing it done well.

This can also make them the “boss” for a particular aspect of your team’s work. This makes them feel like their work is important and valued. Let your team members be in charge of something that they care about.

4. Improve team motivation by getting rid of the demotivating goals

Having a goal to “complete all of your projects within +/- 10% of the allocated time” is not motivating. However, a goal to research new technologies in an upcoming project might be. Demotivating goals tend to be those that a person doesn’t have complete control over.

When I was consulting, we had to be working on client projects at least 80% of the time. The only problem with this was that it was not always up to me whether I was allocated projects. When there was an industry downturn, some great people still couldn’t get project work.

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5. Improve team motivation by remembering that it never ends

Once somebody is interested and motivated, that’s not the end of the story. Once they achieve their goal or learn and apply their new skills, they will need to find something else to interest them in the longer term. Getting promoted is nice, but once you’ve achieved it, it is amazing how quickly your motivation levels can drop.

Most people need to feel as if they are progressing in some way to maintain their motivation, otherwise their thinking becomes focused on the short term. Instead of heading towards a goal, your team will start focusing on 5pm and the weekend.

The secret to improving team motivation is to give your team a future that looks interesting. Try and change “What’s the point?” to “What’s next?”

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