Scott’s Thoughts: Motivating Teams

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Antoine de Sainte-Exupery (1900-1944); aviator, writer

I love this quote by Antoine de Sainte-Exupery, because it speaks to the core of motivation: Emotional investment. A team is at its best when it is emotionally invested in the big picture as well as members of the team.

Most of my reading time and business experience has been on the topics of personal improvement, especially in the areas of productivity. But real business power lies in bringing highly productive individuals together, devoted to a common cause. Let me tell you, money alone isn’t enough of a carrot if you’re looking to start a fire in your team members’ hearts. You need deeper connections to sustain the journey.

With that in mind, here are ten tips to help you motivate your team.

1. It begins with you; be a role model. If you’re not excited, how can others be excited? Be a motivated member. It’s contagious.

2. Share information; transparency = ownership. If you keep your team in the dark, treating them like pawns in your game, you diminish their trust, encourage rumors, and undermine bonds between members. Good or bad, show your cards and play the hand together if you want buy-in.

3. Bring your problems to the team, seek input. You built a smart team, didn’t you? Well use them! It feels good when you help people, so you can assume they’ll feel good helping you.

4. Keep it informal, dispense with the nitpicking. If you’re riding your team about the petty rules and regulations of an office environment, stop now. Military rule over insignificant details engenders an antagonistic environment. In other words: Don’t sweat the small stuff.

5. Appreciate team members; take them to lunch & compliment often. We’ve said it before: Silence isn’t praise. Let them know you value them and show it with action.

6. Brainstorm together; try team lunches. Once and a while, bring the team together for an informal lunch where you can share ideas. Everything is fair game, though it helps to focus on a challenge you can address together.

7. Don’t change the rules for rewards. Nothing is more frustrating than undermining team rewards with excuses, revisions, or special cases. When you make a commitment to reward someone for a goal, don’t change the reward or the parameters for meeting the goal.

8. Ban individual blame; win/lose as a team. You may have team members who underperform from time to time. Resist the urge to single them out. Sharing success and failure equally as a policy will cut down on ill will within the team.

9. Action over advice; if you can help solve a problem, get your hands dirty. When a team member comes to you with a problem, it’s vital that you show you’re willing to back them with action to help resolve the issue. It breeds gratitude and fosters solidarity.

10. Give room for creativity; don’t pre-judge ideas. Team members need room to explore their creativity. Don’t shoot down ideas because you think they won’t work. Encourage them. Help them refine ideas. Ask them how they will evaluate the effectiveness of their ideas. Regroup later to investigate results.

Motivating teams is challenging. While material rewards are one byproduct of a motivated team, the greater gift is waking up in the morning with a sense of shared purpose, going to see people you genuinely enjoy working with, and building a career that sustains you spiritually and emotionally on a far higher level.

(Photo credit: wsilver)

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