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Strategic Thinking


How to Motivate Your Team

Posted by Ben Grant on 31/12/19 10:15
Ben Grant
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If you’re leading a team, it’s vitally important that you can keep the members of that team motivated in order to accomplish the task at hand. But how exactly can you go about doing this, and doing it well?


Regardless of whether you're in a business or any kind of organisation and running a team, understanding the drivers that inspire the people within that team to get things done is central to your success. This article explores team motivation and looks at how you can make the right changes to lead your team forwards with confidence.

The origin of motivation

In order to achieve something, it helps to first know what it is you are trying to achieve. Motivation, the word, comes from the Latin, “movere”, meaning to move. It is the desire to do something and continue to work towards its accomplishment. Motivation is a major issue facing modern organisations. It is dependent on the answers to the following three questions:

  • What do you want to do?
  • How hard are you trying?
  • How long will you continue trying?

Each answer to these questions forms a component of motivation. What you want to do is the direction - what is the direction of travel for the team. How hard you are trying - this is the intensity or work rate of the people in the team. How long you are willing to continue trying - this is persistence, how long the team can endure the pace. When you know these factors, you understand what it is that forms a person’s motivation.

Conversely, a person may be trying very hard to avoid work, that’s the wrong kind of motivation!

The 3 psychological theories

In psychology, there are a set of theories of motivation known as the common-sense theories of motivation. These theories are just simple views of motivation that are commonly held by people without a psychological background.

Theory X is the idea that people are inherently lazy and cannot be trusted to work. Therefore, they must be motivated by financial rewards and threats of punishment. Even in today's world, it's not uncommon to come across organisations that function like this.

There is then theory Y, which states that people are fundamentally moral and responsible beings who will strive for the good of their work organisation. Fortunately, there are plenty of this type of organisation.

Finally, the social theory, which is the idea that a person’s behaviour is influenced primarily by social integrations, and that people are responsive to the expectations of people around them, seeking meaningful social relationships at work.

Now, you would have to be an extremely cynical person to accept theory X as the truth, and extremely naïve to follow theory Y. But what about social theory? Whilst it could certainly be said that many people value their social interactions at work, would they still value them with less pay? Or worse working conditions? It’s foolish to narrow down motivation to a single factor.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

A theory of motivation that is very popular with modern managers and executives is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, first proposed in 1943. This theory is so popular, in fact, that we here at Alembic have made a video explaining it – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The idea behind this theory is that the needs of humans are arranged into a strict hierarchy of importance, and once the more basic lower-order needs are fulfilled, the more complicated higher-level needs can be tended to.


Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

There are 5 tiers in Maslow’s hierarchy. The bottom tier is physiological needs, the biological requirement for human survival. These are basic needs like air, food and water. According to Maslow, all other needs are secondary until these needs are met.

Above this, there is the safety tier. This is the need for things like shelter and security. A roof over your head. It makes sense to have this above physiological needs, what’s the use of a house if you have no food to eat?

On top of this, Maslow placed the belonging and love needs. This is the need for social interaction and interpersonal relationships. Similar to the social common sense theory of motivation.

The final two tiers in the hierarchy are of the greatest significance in the workplace. First is the esteem needs tier. This is split into two categories. The first is esteem for oneself, which involves themes like dignity, independence and mastery. The second is the desire to have a reputation and respect from others, prestige and status. This tier is workplace applicable because dignity, independence and mastery are all things you can aid your employees and teams in achieving, making them more motivated. Additionally, if they feel respected, according to Maslow, they will also be more motivated and achieve more.

Above this is the final tier. The tier of self-actualisation. This is realising your full personal potential, being self-fulfilled. As Maslow put it, “a desire to become everything one is capable of becoming.”

There are mixed views regarding the scientific and psychological validity of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, particularly regarding the idea that one level must be achieved before one can be motivated by the next, but it is still a useful tool for motivating your team, particularly the top two tiers.

Maintaining team fulfilment

So, if you're a leader who is looking to deliver results, how can you enable your team to fulfil their own esteem needs? There are a variety of things you can do.

You could allow them to go about conducting tasks independently, minimising the amount of time spent micromanaging them. This will help them to feel that they are acting independently, partially fulfilling their need for esteem for oneself. Additionally, it will also help to fulfil their desire for reputation or respect from others, as they feel trusted by those they’re working with to complete tasks on time and to a high standard.

In summary

One’s desire for mastery can be assisted in being fulfilled by playing to people’s strengths. When it comes to delegating tasks to your workforce, ask people where they think their strengths are and what they think they will be able to accomplish to the highest standard. This will likely mean that they feel more confident in their abilities, helping to fulfil their esteem needs.

That being said, it is also important to learn new skill in order to achieve one’s esteem need for achievement, as progression is a form of achievement. Therefore, it is important to invest in the professional development of your team through training and new experiences. This allows your team to reach new heights and achieve new things, motivating them further. 

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Topics: Emotional Intelligence, Leadership Development, Teaching

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