How to motivate a team is a common challenge every manager will face throughout their career. We take you through 10 practical actions you can take that will definitely increase your team’s motivation and make your job as a manager easier and more enjoyable.
So let’s start with the first action.
1. Set clear direction, goals and expectations
As a manager, setting goals for the team to work towards is a must. If you don’t, then each member of the team will work in the direction they think best. Chances are that you will have everyone going in all directions. Achieving much when this is happening is hard.
Set a goal or group of goals to give everyone a focus to aim at. Each person can then prioritise their activities and projects to best support and meet the team goals. The team will then move in similar direction, which will result in a lot more being achieved, and the right things being achieved.
Work to clearly define the team goals and direction, and then make sure the team understands the goals you are trying to reach. Ask them to explain the goal to you and how they and you will know when it is reached.
An even better approach is to get the team to help you define the goal and milestones along the way. This takes a little longer than you defining the goals. The benefits you get is a team that owns the goals alongside you rather them being your goals imposed on them, and you may end up with better goals or a better plan to achieve the goals.
Once you have your goals in place, you can set expectations for each team member. Personal goals or objectives for each person and a plan of how to get there are both really important in setting expectations. Taking both steps makes it a lot easier to hold individuals to account if performance becomes a problem.
Learn your way:
Creating plans can be a massive help for the individual to achieve the goals. Judge what is needed for each individual. And if each team member meets their goals, the team should reach the team goals. This in your interests as manager and providing help when needed makes a lot of sense and shows you care .
Provide clear direction by setting goals and help plan how to get to the goals. These steps make expectations clear for everyone. Clarity and responsibility are both motivational factors.
2. Be Consistent and Fair to Motivate a team
Consistency is important for motivating teams. No-one enjoys being treated worse than other team members, or unfairly. Over time, an inconsistent approach undermines the team’s respect for you, creates problems within the team and makes your job as manager a lot harder.
It is much better to establish principles and then apply those principles consistently.
Just imagine a conversation without any consistency or principles going something like this:
Team Member: “You allowed David to submit his report two days late last week and Gemma to submit her report a day late. Why can’t I send my report in a day late?”
Manager responds “eerr….because I am asking you to submit it on time”.
This response is inconsistent and give the team member plenty of arguments to push, making your job harder. Even if you convince them, they will probably feel unfairly treated which stores up problems for the future.
Let’s compare to a more principal approach which might go something like this:
Team member: “I would like to submit my report a day late as I am really busy – is that okay?”
Manager responds “We all agreed as a team that one of our highest priorities was to submit our reports on time each week. Do you remember being at that meeting?”
Team member “Yes”
Manager “So you need to submit your report on time, just like everyone else”.
Team member “Okay – I will”
The manager is upholding the principle agreed by the team. The team member has peer pressure and the manager’s request to contend with and doesn’t really have an argument to push. They are also be treated just the same as everyone else.
Agreeing the principles and then sticking to them allows you as a manager to be fair and consistent. And as we all know, you won’t have principle for everything. Apply the 80/20 rule and cover the important areas.
This will make yours and the team’s life a lot easier.
3. Be open and honest
I have found time and time again, that being open and honest and sharing as much information as sensible with the team I am managing, helps everyone.
Give the team members the reasons why certain decisions, actions or projects are happening. Encourage them to ask questions and provide honest answers.
When team members understand why certain decisions have been made or projects started or goals set, then they can adapt:
- what they are doing and
- their decisions and
- their projects
to support the projects and activities, thus making it easier for the team or company to reach their goals. They are also much more likely to accept decisions if they understand why it is happening.
Probably even more important, being open and honest also extends your trust to the team or demonstrates your trust of the team.
Let me ask you a question – How many people do you trust who don’t trust you. I imagine it’s a pretty small number or may be zero.
The same goes for your team. If you don’t trust them, you are not making it easy for them to trust you.
Team members are much more likely to be motivated working for a manager they like and trust than for someone they don’t trust.
4. Be supportive and help team members
If the manager of the team and the team members are supportive of one another and help each other, the easier and nicer it is to work in that team. The manager or leader of the team sets the rules and plays a big part in creating the team culture.
The more supportive the manager and the colleagues, the happier and the more motivated team members are likely to be. I would hope most of us have experienced a positive and supportive team environment. I was certainly a lot more motivated to deliver my work and achieve the team goals in this type of environment.
There are lots of ways to help team members and show and be supportive. Some of these include:
- Show empathy to team members when they encounter problems
- Be flexible with holidays, time off for doctors and similar where at all possible. I have always found team members appreciate this flexibility and pay you back and then some
- Roll up your sleaves and help them solve the problems they have. There are lots of ways to do this from telling them the answer through to coaching them to the answer. The team members will develop better problem solving skills with a coaching approach. Bear in mind Coaching is not right in all situations
- Make sure you have the right resources available to the team. Don’t allow the work of 10 to be undertaken by 8 for too long for instance.
- Teach, mentor and coach where possible as part of developing team members
I have always found that being supportive and helpful makes it easier to be successful as a manager and allows the team to deliver more as team members are more motivated to deliver.
5. Work hard to develop team members
There are so many reasons why – as a manager – you want to develop your team members skills and experience. Here are a few:
- A stronger team will achieve more – better results, more projects completed etc
- Greater skills allow the team to do more – different projects, tasks and activities
- A better team means you can do more value add tasks as a manager
- An improving team reflects well on the manager/leader
- Development is a strong retention tool for staff members
- It is motivational to work for a manager looking to improve your skills
There are so many ways to develop team members. A few ideas include:
- Weekly one-to-ones in which you coach and mentor the individuals (this is one of my personal favourite approaches)
- Informal training programmes. You or other team members pass on their knowledge or skills to less skilled team members via lunchtime training sessions for example
- Buddy systems – where a more experienced person teaches a less experienced person
- Formal training – classroom or online courses to teach knowledge and skills
- Coaching sessions – personalised coaching for team members by a third party
- Ask team members to read books, or watch YouTube videos etc
Take the time to put in place different ways to develop your individual team members’ skills and knowledge. They will
- thank you for it
- be a lot more motivated
- do better work
- stay longer in your team or company
Development creates a win-win-win situation for you, them, and the company. Why wouldn’t you invest the time.
6. Protect your team
Every team has many demands on it from within the business and externally from customers, suppliers, or other stakeholders.
One of the important jobs as manager of a team is to manage stakeholders’ expectations, to protect the team from the ups and downs of demands asked of it and to challenge unreasonable demands.
If the team were to respond to each demand asked of it, when it was asked, the team would probably be pulled from pillar to post. The team would keep changing direction too often and not accomplish as much in terms of results or maybe even not deliver at all.
Managing expectations of stakeholders external to the team is an important step to giving the team a realistic chance of delivering on the projects and activities being asked of it. The manager or leader of the team must take the lion’s share of this task.
Keep thinking about and planning out the team’s workload and direction. Keep the workload manageable by managing expectations and saying no when required. Keep the team focused on the key goals they need to achieve.
And of course, you will need to be flexible to accommodate urgent and important tasks that pop out of the woodwork. Do this without the team losing their general direction and focus on the key goals of the team.
If the team are overworked or pully in all directions, the team motivation will drop. If you are able to effectively protect the team from these issues, while delivering for your key stakeholders, the team will be a lot more motivated as they know you have their back.
7. Learn to Say No
Learning to say No takes confidence and judgement. For some requests you cannot say no because doing so would harm the team or company. Other requests you should say no to because they are unimportant or not urgent compared to the team’s current workload.
Saying No is easier when you are confident about WHY you are saying no and about HOW you say no.
In my experience, you are rarely saying “no – I / we are not going to do that”.
Saying No is much more often about:
- delaying the delivery of a task.
“We are not able to deliver this project for next Friday because we have two other projects that are higher priorities. We should be able to deliver this for you the following Friday, in just over two weeks’ time. Would that work for you?”
- Asking clarifying questions
“When do you really need this for?
What is dependant of this being delivered for next Tuesday?
What is the minimum you need for next week?
And so on.
By asking questions you find out more about the request and its importance and urgency. This often means you can prioritise better and often delay delivering against these requests.
Learning to say No nicely is a critical skill for all workers to develop, and especially so of anyone managing or leading a team.
It is a motivating factor for a team with a manager or leader that can say no at appropriate times and in the right way to ensure the team in not pulled off course or overworked.
8. Make Time to Celebrate Successes
Everyone likes to be told they have done a good job. Positive reinforcement works so much better that criticising what has not gone as well.
In fact, studies have shown that to keep a colleague or team member happy – you need to compliment at least three times as much being critical. Three times. How many managers achieve this? A surprisingly small number I would bet.
Make sure that when you celebrate success you are specific – not general – with your comments. This makes them much more valuable and appreciated. Look out for opportunities to praise team members for work well done or demonstrating great behaviour.
There are lots of ways of celebrating successes. Some examples include:
- Sending an email praising work
- When you are chatting by the water cooler compliment them
- In your one-to-one meetings praise the work they have done
- In public, in front of other team members, praise the work they have done
- In public, in a formal team meeting give out prizes for great work or behaviour
Use different ways to celebrate successes. The more you do this, the more the team will feel appreciated and motivated to do more.
Compliment a least three times as much as being critical and be specific with your compliments.
9. Manage your negative emotions to motivate a team
We are all human and experience the full range of emotions – the positive and the negative. To motivate a team and keep them motivated, as a manager controlling your negative emotions is important.
When you are
- fed up
etc – be careful how you display these emotions.
Research on emotional management suggest that the leader’s ability to manage his/her emotions will determine team morale and motivations.
Emotional management doesn’t mean that you suppress these negative emotions. Suppression will likely harm your team member’s motivation as they will register your lack of authenticity.
Reappraising and reframing your negative emotions will have a much more positive impact on the team.
If a decision is made that impacts the team – the decision has made you angry and chances are the team too. Acknowledging your anger with the team creates empathy, and then discussing why the decision will help the company – although not the team – would help the other team members understand why the decision was made and the wider benefits involved.
To reframe your emotions, turn the problem into a challenge rather than a threat, which helps you concentrate on the task at hand and plan out the steps to success.
Don’t suppress your emotions. Reappraise or reframe your emotions to help the team stay motivated. This will help you and the team manage negative emotions in a much more positive and constructive way.
10. Promote from within where possible
When considering how to motivate a team, promoting from within wherever possible sends a great positive message to the team.
Giving current employees the opportunity to progress their career, without having to leave the company and go through the hassle of finding and winning a new job, is a very positive message. This creates a very positive ripple effect through the team and business.
Combine promoting from within with development programmes and you have a very powerful retention incentive for all employees.
Recognise potential and talent, develop it and promote where possible.
Promoting from with creates lot of benefits to the company, the team and of course the individual:
- less disruption and training time
- less cost
- less risk as you know the person and their work
- less staff turnover
- more robust workforce with less points of failure if key members of the team were to leave
There are many reasons to promote from within, so take a look at your team and work out which staff members could be developed over the next year or two to be ready for a promotion and start the development programme.
Promoting from within plus development opportunities are both great ways to motivate a team.
So we have gone through 10 actions that will help you with the “how to motivate a team” question. To recap these are:
- Set clear direction, goals and expectations
- Be fair and consistent
- Be open and honest
- Be supportive and help team members
- Work hard to develop team members
- Protect your team
- Learn to say no
- Celebrating successes – publicly and privately
- Manage your negative emotions carefully
- Promote from within where possible
This is not an exhaustive list but will give you a good start in keeping your team happy and motivated.
Enjoy managing and leading your team!