Motivating a Team Without Being an Annoying Cheerleader

We’ve all seen those sports movies like Remember the Titans, Any Given Sunday, Mighty Ducks. A tough situation, an inspiring speech and a rally by the team to win, together. And the source of that inspiration? A leader who’s been able to motivate their team to success.

Motivation is a tricky beast. As quickly as it can swoop in to inspire a team of people and drive them to accomplish a goal, it can disappear as fast when not managed well enough by a leader. Let’s face it, we’ve all been there ourselves with our careers – at some point, we lose steam.

There are a number of reasons why, and most of them have to do with who’s leading. Not rewarding your team properly (recognition, compensation, promotion), a lack of direction, fading trust in management, working in silos, lack of autonomy or accountability – you get it, the list goes on.

So you’re the leader, charged to gather the troops. How do you drive your talented team to achieve goals and getting shit done? Motivated teams are more likely to be productive and efficient, creative problem solvers, focused on the customer and less likely to leave you and your organization. A motivated team, in turn, makes you look great with all those aforementioned reasons.

During my years abroad consulting, I had many chances to lead teams. It was challenging – a different country (China) with a different working culture and barriers with communications. However, I noticed there were four key ways I could rally the team. While cultural and language barriers exist, human behaviour around motivation is pretty universal.

Get to know every member of your team.

During my first weeks as a team lead, I sat down with each team member and tried to understand what helped to drive them and take a genuine interest in their professional, and to a reasonable extent, their personal lives. Some told me about how they wanted to learn more about consulting from me, some wanted a promotion or the chance to work on the best projects. And some wanted a raise to buy nice things for their partner – hey, everyone has something driving them. No judgements!

The rapport you build with each of them will allow you to identify areas of strength and development, incentives (rewards/recognition) and the best way to influence and manage them. In turn, it makes them more likely to be more comfortable to be more open with you, making them want to stay your employee.

Remind them of the why.

It’s important to articulate a clear vision for the team and remind them of why their work matters in achieving that vision. If at all possible, have them contribute to how they think they can help with that vision. During daily scrums or weekly status meetings, it was always good to have a quick and gentle reminder of the vision while going over execution matters – it helps them understand the bigger picture while sorting through their daily responsibilities.

Sometimes external forces can help like bringing in outside speakers and sharing interesting industry articles or publications can help inspire the team’s daily work. By getting them excited about what they are doing and their impact, it makes them feel like they aren’t doing it just for the paycheck anymore – there is a purpose to their work.

Stretch and develop their skills.

Skills development and learning are some of the key drivers for people to stay in their current jobs. Provide your team with the resources or the opportunities to develop their skills through special projects, skills training, coaching or mentoring. Encourage self-study and suggest articles, podcasts, books to develop their skill. And most important, don’t wait for performance reviews – provide timely informal feedback on performance and discuss ways to improve and develop their skills and competencies further.

Foster a collaborative team culture.

Create an environment that encourages collaboration, open communication and support. I’m not saying knock down all the office walls and have open environment offices – you can establish an openness on your team regardless of your office’s physical makeup.

Implement weekly team huddles to communicate wins, progress updates, share challenges. Celebrate collaborative efforts among the team with offsite team building activities or lunch to get to know each other. Breaking down the formality of a work environment makes people more likely to communicate, collaborate and work conflict-free.

Most people who I’ve spoken to have left roles, not because of pay or position, but rather, how they were led and how their leaders made them feel. A sense of purpose and belonging goes a long way to keep people in their seats and not looking at the exit. A good leader can motivate without being heavy-handed like doing cheers, jumping up and down and making a scene. Motivation is a gentle guiding hand that makes people on your team know that someone is there to guide them.