I see many professionals, team leaders and managers ask what seems to be a very important question to them: How do we keep our teams motivated? For several years, I kept asking this question myself. I asked this question from my mentors, I asked it from my colleagues, and I even asked this from my team members themselves. But somehow, no answer has convinced me so far in a way that I could witness actual results. It’s probably because in my opinion, I do not consider team motivation and team performance as two independent elements.
Team motivation almost compulsorily needs to reflect in team performance and that sometimes is not the case when motivation is mistaken for ‘always keeping the team happy’. Motivation and happiness without a shade of doubt have a correlation but very honestly put, this connection is only as strong as the results produced. Managers may experiment with the order of sequence in which the two work and may even compliment one with the other simultaneously but the fact of the matter is that performance will always outweigh motivation whenever looked at from a perspective of comparison.
As also mentioned above, motivation may at times be mistaken with the contentment of the team members. I used the term ‘mistaken’ here because for a lot of employees, contentment comes with complacency attached to it. Although these are essentially two different things but this is not how it is generally perceived especially when it comes to setting work-related goals. Average employees like myself are in search for job contentment and what this sometimes means deep down inside is the desire to work in an environment that does not challenge our competence in a critical manner.
The word ‘challenge’ when used in the present tense usually represents a situation or circumstances that we have chosen for ourselves knowingly and intentionally. Take a closer look at the situation and you will realize that there is very little in it that deserves to be called ‘challenging’ but since it was our desire to take it on, no matter how small a task it is, in our minds, it is a ‘challenge’. The same word though, when used in the past tense would usually represent a situation that was imposed upon one with him/ her not really wanting to be part of it. We only proudly call it a challenge once we somehow survive it and look back at it with a grin on the face. Otherwise, it is just a ‘demotivating’ task assigned by the boss with a single point agenda that is to set us up for failure and ruin our careers.
So it all comes down to being motivated in the present and producing results at the same time. For this, the only person with the power to lift you up and prepare you to face any challenge (real one) that comes your way is none other than your very own self. A good boss or leader can only add fuel to your fire. Believe it or not, NO ONE can ignite your passion but you. An exceptional leader will utilize even a single spark in you and turn it into fire but that first spark needs to come from within. A spark that comes from the belief that you have in what you do. And if you don’t have that- you’re probably in the wrong place.
So there’s no single answer or method to keeping your team motivated. It depends on the team as much as on the team leader to create an environment that yields positivity and is free from unnecessary carping. A great lesson (one that hit my right in the face) which I learnt from one of my professional mentors was when he told me, “Your appreciation for work is what you get transferred into your bank account on the first day of every new month. If you want more praise, do more than what you are getting paid for already.”
Although harsh but I guess that sums up pretty much everything.
Hammad A. Mateen