The Motivated Coworker: How to Increase Team Productivity Even When You’re Not the Team Leader

People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.—Zig Ziglar, American motivational speaker and author.

The Motivated Coworker: How to Increase Team Productivity  Even When You're Not the Team Leader by Laura Stack #productivityActive, participative teamwork has become crucial to the modern business environment. Gone are the days when one person could anchor a team by doing everything well—or doing everything, period. Even superstar athletes like Labron James and Sidney Crosby depend on the talents and hard work of their teammates to excel.

Modern business is too complex to know or do it all; this has necessarily led to specialization. We need capable people in multiple slots to accomplish specific business goals, no matter how narrow those goals—especially in this era of business agility.

Ideally, your supervisor would tie you all together into a team with specific goals and challenges, motivating you to do your best work as a cohesive unit. But even the best leaders can’t always go it alone, so it may be up to you to help take up the slack. This may seem like an inconceivable task on the face of it, but believe me, it isn’t—and you don’t have to undermine your team leader to do it, either. He or she need not even notice you’re doing anything, only that your team functions remarkably well.

How does this work?

Reaching Out 

It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that happy workers are more productive workers. You’ve surely seen this in yourself. However, it may surprise you to learn that, according to a 2012 study, workers seem to respond more productively to social support from coworkers than they do from supervisors.[1] Workers with coworker support miss fewer days, automatically increasing their productivity. This offers you an ideal opportunity to boost coworker productivity—just by being nice to people. The study’s conclusions derive from a population of Chinese workers at the same company, so the author admits it may not apply to everyone, since Chinese workers and management tend to have more distant relationships than their American counterparts. However, there remains an enforced distance between rank-and-file and management in most Western workplaces as well, so it’s worth applying the results to your own coworkers to help keep the team on an even keel.

The boost may even work better when continued outside the workplace. After all, what’s wrong with making friends with your coworkers? That’s where many of us find our friends and spouses anyway, and we spend nearly as much time with them as with our families – if not more. As Heather Hurman points out in an October 2014 Infographics article in Entrepreneur, positive work relationships can make a big difference in worker satisfaction—and inevitably, in productivity.

Celebrate Good Times, Come On

Celebrating accomplishments, milestones like anniversaries and birthdays, and promotions also raises spirits. People naturally feel happier when they like and respect those they work with, translating almost inevitably to increased productivity. Just as Michal Biron has documented decreased work absences based on increased social contact between coworkers, in the book The Village Effect, author Susan Pinker suggests that weakening social contact results in poorer business relationships. Conversely, strengthening social contacts, particularly with face-to-face conversation, also strengthens productivity. Pinker proposes that harmonious personal contact may stimulate the release of oxytocin, a mood-heightening brain chemical that also helps us remember and learn. If so, then Nature seems to have hardwired humans for sociability.[2]

Therefore, it benefits everyone for you to be more social. If this makes you the team “cheerleader,” so what? There are worse roles. In fact, you can actually offer to act as morale officer, or just appoint yourself as such unofficially. Sure, some people won’t respond well, but that’s inevitable in any group. Even getting through to one or two people will result in increased team productivity, helping you because it helps everyone.

Positively Charged   

Maintaining a relentlessly positive attitude offers another way to boost your team’s overall productivity quotient. A bad attitude about your work, gossiping, rumor-mongering, and undermining your leader’s authority can kill productivity. A positive attitude can have the opposite effect. It’s not hard to be positive; instead of griping when faced with problems, reframe them as challenges and work on conquering them. Your positive attitude may also offset a whiner or mutterer’s negative effects, so go for it.

Leading from Within

It may not be your job to boost your teammates’ productivity, but as I pointed out earlier, doing so helps you all, just as a rising tide lifts all boats. Besides, “That’s not my job” remains the worst excuse any worker can roll out, especially when the company or team needs your help. You may not be a leader, but you can definitely make your presence felt, and your team productivity shine, just by doing your best to be a nice person. It may sound like a naïve dream, but it works—if you want it to.

[1] Michal Biron, 2013. “Effective and ineffective support: How different sources of support buffer the short– and long–term effects of a working day.” European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology 22(2): 150-164.

[2] Susan Pinker, The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter. New York: Random House, 2014.


© 2015 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, a.k.a. The Productivity Pro®, helps professionals achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. For nearly 25 years, her keynote speeches and workshops have helped professionals and leaders boost personal and team productivity, increase results, and save time at work. Laura is the author of seven books by large publishers. Her newest book, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time, hits bookstores in January. Widely regarded as one of the leading experts in the field of performance and workplace issues, Laura has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and USA Today. Connect via her website, Facebook, or Twitter.





  1. “Happy workers are more productive workers” now that is very true. Motivating your employees is one sure way to keep them happy and motivation is not just about money alone. Learn to celebrate their accomplishments.