Early in my career when I would see an unmotivated team member, I would immediately think to myself “What a slacker”, “She’s useless” or “He’s no good”.
Straight away, my thoughts would go towards what the team member is doing wrong, rather than what I could be doing better for my team members.
Now, I know better. I’ve seen people go from unmotivated to motivated literally overnight, when the work environment or a leader’s behaviour changed to better suit their needs.
You might be amazed at how a few small changes can make the difference for your team.
Relevant post: 3 Steps Towards Employee Engagement: A Success Story.
Treat the Root Cause, Not the Symptoms
As a leader, it’s easy to blame your team members for being unmotivated. After all, the symptoms are all things that make your blood boil.
Missed deadlines, sloppy work, a lack of “care factor”. Whatever the signs, they are likely to annoy you, because they might be making you look bad. But you should remember that you are seeing just the symptoms of an unmotivated team member.
Your team member has “motivation sickness” and as the leader, you’re the doctor, here to diagnose the root cause and find the cure.
Obviously the first step is finding the root cause. And to do that, you’ve got to start by better understanding the situation, by withholding any judgement and trying to get the facts.
What to Do When Your Unmotivated Team Member Won’t Open Up
Sometimes when your team member has a case of motivation sickness, they won’t want to talk about it. Because they lack motivation, they simply want to be left alone. They want to do their job and go home, with little fuss.
But when the motivation issue is causing problems in your team, it’s time to take action. They’ll say that nothing is wrong, but you know that’s not true.
1. Show Your Team Member You Have Noticed the Problem
Because unmotivated team members are struggling to care, they often don’t notice the impact they have. As such, they’ll think you haven’t noticed either.
What you need to do first is to make it clear that you have noticed the problem. Give specific examples to show that you’re serious.
2. Show Support, Rather Than Treating a Performance Problem
You don’t want to start a performance conversation. You want to have a motivation conversation.
If you can point out their behaviour and speak about how you think they can do better, you set the foundation for a constructive conversation.
Sure, you do need to mention that perhaps the quality of the work hasn’t been up to standard. But you don’t need to punish them, you need to talk about how they could live up to their potential.
3. Be Prepared to Get Help
Sometimes, you might get the sense that your team member’s motivation problem isn’t just about work. Factors outside of work can have a big impact inside the workplace, too.
Be prepared, you may need to enlist the help of your Human Resources team, or even external providers when it comes to mental health issues or other problems bigger than the workplace.
Ask These 5 Questions to Help Your Unmotivated Team Member
The best way I know to tackle motivation issues is to have an open and frank discussion about them. Hopefully, you’re in a place where your team member can open up and believes you have the best of intentions.
Let’s get started.
1. How Do You Feel About Your Work and the Team Environment?
I like this question, because it is open ended, and sets a foundation for a good discussion. Many of the answers your team member may provide will lead you to further, more specific questions.
Don’t ask “Do you like your work?”, because this is a closed question. You want an open question that requires a longer response, that you can dig deeper into.
You can also ask more specific questions about recent changes in your team, to find out how your team member is responding to those changes.
2. What Parts of Your Job Do You Like the Most?
This is a positive question, that focuses on some good aspects of work. It’s important that people enjoy at least some of their work. I’ve never met anybody that likes everything about their job.
When you understand what your unmotivated team member likes, you may be able to arrange the work so they can do more of those tasks.
Obviously, you can’t turn the world upside down to please this person, but you may be able to make some reasonable changes.
Related post: Job Design Explained.
3. What Do You Want to Do In the Future?
Many leaders don’t take the time to find out what their people want to do in the future. They are more concerned about *now* and getting the work done.
But I feel they are missing something. An important part of motivation is understanding where your team member wants to be, and helping them to get there.
Whether this means giving them work to build new skills, or providing other opportunities for advancement, is up to you.
After all, life is long. Don’t pretend that your people are going to be with you forever.
Related post: A Simple & Effective Model For Team Motivation.
4. What Frustrates You the Most About Your Work?
This is a great question for unlocking some of the bad processes or frustrating interactions within your team member’s working life.
If you’re in the middle of an open conversation, don’t be surprised to hear about problems that may be bigger than you or your team. Try not to take it personally if some of the frustration is directed at you… I’ve been there before!
The most important thing is that you’re here, and you’re trying to make improvements.
Related post: 4 Job Satisfaction Killers That Are Demotivating Your Team.
5. What Do You Worry or Stress About Most At Work?
This question is designed to uncover areas where your team member may be lacking confidence, or lacking the skills to succeed in their role.
If you ask directly whether your team member has the skills to do their job, you’re likely to scare them. But if you look for sources of stress or worry, you’re likely to uncover areas where they feel insecure, or where they feel they may be falling short.
Once you know what they are, you can look for ways to build their confidence and skills.
Related post: Improve Motivation In Your Team With This Simple Theory.
These five questions will give you the basis for a constructive conversation, when you feel like your team member is struggling with motivation.
Hopefully, these questions will uncover the source of motivation problems which you can try to address. You won’t be able to fix everything, but ignorance is not bliss. It’s better to know the motivation problems in your team, rather than hoping things will improve by themselves.
Tip: If you are struggling to motivate your team, Thoughtful Leader can help. Check out the Motivating Your Team Audiobook, for tools and techniques to get the best out of your team members. Don’t settle for an unmotivated team member… get the audiobook today.
What other questions would you ask a team member struggling with motivation issues? Leave a comment below and let’s build the list!
Alternatively, if you would like to ask a question or need some help, you can send me a private message through my contact page.
This is really great content. My favorite quote has to be “You don’t want to start a performance conversation. You want to have a motivation conversation.”. Great resource and unique approach to finding out what’s going on in your team!
Thanks Yuna, I’m glad it resonated with you. I believe that so much of our motivation comes from our situation and environment, not just from the person directly.
Great points, and I love that you suggest an empathic approach instead of a result oriented one. I care about my team members and I want them to be happy about their job and as a result have a great performance. Thank you for this useful post
Absolutely. Sometimes focusing on motivating your people can achieve great results, rather than focusing on results by themselves.
Thanks for the comment and glad you found it useful,