“When people are crystal clear about the most important priorities of the organization and team they work with and prioritize their work around those top priorities, not only are they many times more productive, they discover they have the time they need to have a whole life.” — Stephen Covey, American educator and keynote speaker.
You can spend months defining your team’s core values, articulating your Mission and Vision, and fashioning a flexible, up-to-the-minute strategy—but your whole tower will crumble if your team members don’t feel motivated enough to execute rapidly and consistently. If their collective attitude boils down to “Who cares?” then you’ve lost the game before you’ve even begun.
If that’s true, then who’s at fault? Well, you can blame your team if you like. You can even punish them for being unmotivated—a dangerous form of self-sabotage that will most likely force you farther toward failure. Or you can decide to shoulder the responsibility and work to engage your team and rev their motivational engines.
“Individual commitment to a group effort—that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” So said legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, who had plenty of experience with both commitment and motivation. The son of a second-generation Italian-American butcher whose business prospered during the Great Depression, he grew up with daily exposure to the type of commitment required not just to survive but to thrive during hard times. He later earned a football scholarship to Fordham University, where he picked up the skills necessary to excel as a coach at West Point, and later with the New York Giants, Green Bay Packers, and Washington Redskins.
What can you do to inspire your team to the Lombardi level of commitment? Start by showing them you believe in them; you are going to hold them to a higher standard, because you have confidence they can achieve it. Try these tips, especially when the going gets tough:
1. Make sure everyone understands the big picture. If your team isn’t already familiar with the organization’s main goals, then lay them out in plain language. Show them where they fit within the organizational structure, and why their work moves everyone toward those goals. Make them feel valued, so they’ll have reason to engage with and “own” their jobs.
2. Give them what they need. If team members lack the right tools or training, they may not feel capable of or confident about doing the tasks you’ve assigned them. Whether they need training, a new computer, a smartphone, or a better printer, make it happen, so they can move forward with confidence. If they express a need for something to help them be more productive, and you fail to provide or approve it, they soon will stop coming to you with improvement ideas.
3. Plan carefully. Because long-term strategies rarely survive their first brushes with reality, you’ll need to collaborate with your team on how to best achieve them, because they probably know best. Review the plans and get everyone involved in how to proceed. Give them active, important roles in building those plans, as well as controlling deadlines, scheduling, project management, and scope creep.
4. Establish performance goals. Provide reasonable objectives to shoot for, both as individuals and as a team, but make everyone stretch a little to reach them. The goals can take the form of quotas, profit margins, commissions, projects completed early and under budget, or whatever else matters to your company or team.
5. Provide tracking metrics. Along the way, show them how they’re doing. If the team realizes they’re they front-runners in a company-wide sales race, for example, they may work extra hard to stay there; or if they’re in second place, they may redouble their efforts to take first. Consider it a report card for the team, one that may inspire them to kick it into high gear.
6. Be there for them. Lead from the front, ready to smooth the path and provide anything they need to in order to execute. During a crunch time or crisis, roll up your sleeves, and work side-by-side with them until everything’s back to normal.
7. Celebrate successes. When something goes right, even something small, make sure your team knows you appreciate their efforts. Public pats on the back are cheap, and in some cases, just as effective as cash. You can also provide treats for the break room, or take everyone to lunch when things go well. If a project’s especially important or difficult, promise your folks that when they complete it—especially if it comes in early and under budget—you’ll have a blowout party, or they’ll all get a special treat like a three-day weekend. That’ll give them something to reach for, providing a light at the end of the tunnel they know isn’t a train.
You’ll notice that many of the motivational tips I’ve outlined here are intrinsic: the rewards are internal, based on taking pleasure in achieving results and receiving recognition for them. You already know that dangling the carrot of a bonus, raise, or promotion works wonders for some people. But those are individual prizes, not team ones. Intrinsic rewards, on the other hand, can act as powerful motivators in team environments. Even if someone is determined to be the MVP, they still pull the entire team upward. As Michael Jordan once said, there’s no “I” in “Team,” but there is in “Win.” If you win, the whole team prospers.
The real test of team motivation efforts is results. What have you done—extrinsic or intrinsic—to motivate your team? Or what has someone done that definitely did not motivate you but actually did the opposite?