It is easy to find advice about it on the internet; one search can present you with millions of results of quotes and ideas about what it takes to get people working.
But, they do not really help, do they?
There are only so many quotes you can read before you start asking yourself the question:
“What does it actually take to increase my team’s motivation?”
Well, that is exactly why we put this article together.
We want to show you five research-backed methods to get your team motivated, boost morale, and create a truly productive environment.
Let’s take a closer look.
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1. Ensure Your Team’s Tasks Are Challenging And Meaningful
Nobody wants to work on boring tasks.
They are motivation-sapping missions that we spend a lot of energy trying to avoid. You know, by doing important things like this:
Hackman and Oldham are two researchers who noticed this phenomenon within teams they looked at and decided to take a closer look.
In a number of studies, they found that boring tasks reduced:
For individuals within teams and teams as a whole.
This research led them to create what they called their Job Characteristics Model.
They theorized that motivation and the task are one and the same; the motivation needed to complete a task is derived from the task itself.
For example, a social media manager who loves the creation process may be:
- Highly-motivated to complete the task of writing next week’s social media updates
- Highly-unmotivated to read through last week’s social media analytics data
You could probably assign this label to a number of jobs in your professional life. There are those tasks you like to complete and those that you can’t wait to be over.
Hackman and Oldham also stated that the most motivating tasks for team members are:
- Challenging: the task requires a level of autonomy, decisions making or variety.
- Meaningful: the task needs to have a clear purpose to the team.
- Result-driven: specifically, the task needs to have a clear outcome.
The more the individual feels that these three boxes are checked, the more engaged and motivated they are likely to become with the task at hand.
Now, it is worth remembering that boring is in the eye of the beholder.
What your product team finds challenging and exciting might put your marketing team to sleep. And, the inverse could also be true.
Because of this, you need to be deliberate in how (and to whom) you assign your tasks.
2. Focus On Feelings In Your Feedback
Feedback is necessary in today’s business world.
At some point, you will be asked to evaluate, share, and provide insight into your team member’s or teammate’s performance.
But there is a lot of research to show that feedback — at least with the traditional approach — can actually hinder your team’s motivation and learning.
Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, in their Harvard Business Review article titled The Feedback Fallacy argue that humans are naturally flawed feedback givers:
“The first problem with feedback is that humans are unreliable raters of other humans […] our evaluations are deeply colored by our own understanding of what we’re rating others on, our own sense of what good looks like for a particular competency, our harshness or leniency as raters, and our own inherent and unconscious biases”
To put this another way…
You tend to provide feedback based on your previous experiences or your perception of how you feel a task should be completed.
This is rarely a conscious choice and is merely a symptom of the human condition. But, it does lead to an inherent level of bias toward your personal way of doing things.
Humans also have a tendency, when they find themselves in a position to provide feedback, to falsely assume they are more aware of a person’s shortcomings than they themselves are.
- You are rarely a “master” of the craft you are feedbacking on
- What works for you may not actually work for someone else
- People are usually quite aware of their own shortcomings
When you put all of these elements together you end up with an untrue — or, at the very least, inaccurate — picture of a person’s performance.
And this type of feedback can:
- Demoralize team members
- Impair the learning process
Which, as we are sure you will agree, is the opposite of the impact you are trying to have with your feedback.
But all of this begs the question: is there a better way to provide feedback?
Well, Buckingham and Goodall also suggest a solution that creates a much more honest and accurate picture of performance.
They argue that feedback should be provided through your experiences of their performance. Or, to put it another way, “your truth”.
This means that feedback is not objectively good or bad. Instead, it’s the unarguable facts of what you felt in that moment.
Using phrases such as:
- “When you did … , I felt … .”
- “I’m struggling to understand…”
- “Here is exactly where you started to lose me: …”
- “Here’s what worked best for me, and here’s why…”
Can show you reaction to the situation and allow team members to internally review, address, and understand what has happened.
3. Set Specific And Demanding Goals
You’re in a sales office on the last day of the month. All around you are people working the phones and trying to close their final deals.
At the front of the office is a whiteboard with $20,000 written on it. Next to that is a slightly smaller number that is slowly inching its way closer to the bigger number.
Whenever someone makes a sale they exclaim loudly how much it was — “$500!”, “$120!” — and someone adds it to the running total. The closer they get, the more motivated they become.
… okay, maybe that all sounds a little Glengarry Glen Ross.
But, sales offices are often places filled with highly motivated people, working as part of a team, willing to dig deep and give it that last extra push.
Why is that?
Well, in part, it’s because sales teams work toward clear and challenging goals. They know what they are working towards and can estimate the effort needed to get there.
But this does not just work for sales teams; it works for all teams.
Research from Latham and Locke in a paper titled A Theory of Goal Setting & Task Performance looked at teams working toward:
- Clear and challenging goals
- Vague and easy goals
Their studies found that teams working towards clear and challenging goals almost always had higher levels of motivation and performance.
This goes to show that making your goals:
For your team can naturally boost their motivation.
GrooveHQ used this technique to publicly document their growth to $500,000 monthly revenue:
Having this growth on display for everyone to see made the team accountable to their audience, but also gave them a clear and challenging goal to work toward.
4. Give Your Teams Ownership (And Increase Motivation 5x Over)
Think about this:
You are about to host a lottery for all of your team members. You split your team into two groups:
- Group A is assigned a lottery ticket
- Group B is asked to choose their own 10-digit number
Now, let’s say, you were going to ask team members if you could buy back their lottery tickets. Better still, they can set the price. Confirmed cash in exchange for a high-risk ticket. Not bad!
Which of these two groups do you think would charge more for their ticket:
- Group A?
- Group B?
Logic states that both groups would charge about the same. After all, it is chance, and whoever wins does so based on luck.
But, what researchers who actually ran this experiment found, is that humans are not logical beings.
When it came time to sell their tickets Group B, who had written their own set of numbers, charged five times more than Group A.
This experiment has been repeated in lots of different cultures and territories and always delivered the same results; the group who wrote their own numbers charged more.
What this means for you and your team’s motivation can be summed up in one sentence:
Ownership is important.
When your team members “own” something — a number, a story, a goal, a solution, etc. — it becomes infinitely more valuable to them.
As such their motivation to:
What they own is naturally increased.
Scott Keller, a contributor at Harvard Business Review, notes that the results of this experiment have been replicated throughout the business world.
IBM’s former CEO replicated this experiment during a three-day online discussion forum and empowered each of their 50,000 employees to rewrite their brand values.
Scott also notes that Cisco Systems CEO, John Chambers, found that staying hands-off and letting teams generate their own ideas and solutions to be powerful:
“The minute I’d get into a meeting, I’d listen for about 10 minutes while the team discussed a problem. I knew what the answer was, and eventually, I’d say, ‘All right, here’s what we’re going to do.’ But when I learned to let go and give the team the time to come to the right conclusion, I found they made just as good decisions, or even better — and just as important, they were even more invested in the decision and thus executed with greater speed and commitment.”
You do not need to literally replicate the lottery experiments to see the results. Instead, you just need to provide a safe space and systems where your team can:
So they can effectively create, and take ownership of, the things they need to achieve their task.
5. Provide Your Team With A Sense Of Psychological Safety
Psychological safety provides the foundation for your team’s motivation.
Your team members need to feel they are part of a team where they can actively make, or share, their:
Without feeling they will be negatively judged by others within the team.
There are many studies that show psychological safety underpins all aspects of your team’s performance; from their ability to collaborate through to the number of mistakes they make.
Now, this does not mean you need to create a super-happy workplace inspired by the teachings of Spongebob Squarepants:
In fact, a healthy level of conflict in the workplace can inspire psychological safety. Being able to have “productive disagreements” can do a lot for your team.
But it is clear that by cultivating an attitude of openly sharing, and feeling as if your contributions matter, you can drastically increase your team’s motivation and morale.
Team motivation in a nutshell
Motivation is the key to boosting morale and increasing productivity. You can effectively cultivate team motivation by:
- Providing challenging tasks with a clear outcome
- Offering experiential feedback on performance
- Giving team members ownership of their tasks, solutions, and goals
- Setting clear and demanding goals (instead of vague and easy ones)
- Creating a psychologically safe environment with a healthy level of conflict
Once you have effectively motivated your teams, you also need to think about giving them the right tools to be as productive as possible.