6 Easy Ways to Motivate Your Team

Here are some key ways to motivate your team, but remember no list can replace a genuine care for your team.

These are six things I’ve found to be effective in motivating teams.

1. Don’t Make Lists. Seriously. The thing about lists is that they’re always linear, and people are … well, decidedly nonlinear. Whatever size your team is—and wherever you fit into the leadership picture—you’re all individuals. Which means there’s a real chance that leading with lists will lead to generalizing, even objectifying, the workers you should be seeing as distinct people. You’ll be tempted toward manipulation, not motivation. So remember that your team is made up of real people, and rip up the lists.

2. Don’t Freak Out When People Act Like People. Our minds and hearts are cyclical by nature. Sometimes your colleagues will come to work in a bad mood. Some days they will be unmotivated, unfocused, even unintelligible. Don’t affirm those behaviors, but do recognize that you can’t expect people to be robots. If John misses a deadline to turn in his receipts, or adds them up wrong, or claims the dog ate them—that’s John’s issue, not a reflection on your leadership ability. But it is a reflection on you if you don’t give John the opportunity and tools to move forward.

3. Listen. You’ll be shocked how happy and productive your team will be if you simply listen more. At first they may not even know how to respond. If you’ve not been an active listener, you can expect crickets the first time you simply stop talking and allow others to speak. Some of your employees might even wonder if it’s some sort of trap. Assure them it isn’t, and you just want to be a more active listener.

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4. Reward People Publicly and Privately. Winning “employee of the month”—and the special parking place or the plaque on the wall—is fine. That employee will probably be motivated to keep up the good work. But what happens if the same person is always recognized, or when you’re forced to recognize people who are less deserving? What happens when an employee has a 1 in 300 chance of winning? Private compliments and discreet gifts are powerful motivators. Leave a gift card on someone’s desk. Deliver a handwritten note. You might not even be recognizing a job well done; simply remembering a spouse’s name can be a powerful motivator in some situations.

5. Make Work Fun Whenever You Can. When work is fun, everyone is rewarded. My company’s monthly all-team conference calls were absolutely necessary and potentially very boring. I liked to start the call by saying, “Today’s award is a $20 Starbucks card.” “Award for what?” you ask? Nobody knew but me. The criterion changed each month. An employee might win for making the most people laugh out loud, or perhaps for the best use of alliteration. When people have fun they are more motivated to engage and contribute.

6. Be Vulnerable. I’m big on the three A’s: acknowledge your mistakes, admit when a problem is hard and ask for help. Expressing vulnerability is the most authentic way to motivate a team. If you come across as superhuman, your team will feel like their contributions are less important, or will be “fixed” by you anyway. They may assume that you’re only inviting their participation as a courtesy, that ultimately you’ll simply ignore their input. That is not motivating. But if they see you actually need and accept help, your people will be motivated to step up.

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These six ideas are probably too many. Truth is, we don’t motivate our teams by making lists. What we need is to get out there and actually care for our people. That means demonstrating genuine interest in their lives. It means being clear about our objectives, forgiving mistakes and teaching constantly. It means encouraging whenever we can. If we do those things, our teams are going to do just fine.

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