How To Get Your Team To Be Self-Motivated At Work

One of the greatest responsibilities (and burdens) of driving a group of people toward a goal is the continuous effort of motivating them to achieve milestones and do their best work along the way.

As a manager, trying to figure out why some team members seem to “get it,” while others working within the same environment do not, likely frustrates you.

Many managers fail to realize that the motivators for a group of people are rarely synonymous. As a result, the same environment and identical communication often strikes a chord with some people on the team, yet doesn’t for others.

When managers notice this occurrence and witness some team members performing at much greater levels than others, they often kick an incentive into action in an attempt to motivate the underperformers. Or, they respond with a punitive caveat to the goal, which states that if you do not complete the assigned work, recourse will go into affect.

The emotional reaction to both attempts to fix the problem presents negative feelings for the top performers, as well as those that weren’t performing as highly.

Why Incentives And Recourse Often Do More Harm Than Good

The top performers who were already on their way toward the goal by their own self-motivation now feel as if the work is trivialized by incentives or punitive action.

The low performers are still not motivated to perform the task because their own personal drivers aren’t being met; yet, they feel required to do the work.

For all team members, the disconnect between the work and the control that the extrinsic motivator places on the team members (and therefor the lack of choice on how to best reach that goal) demotivates them and, as a result, the goal begins to evoke a negative feeling for the team.

As the manager, you’re left scratching your head and wondering what went wrong.

How To Get Your Team To Be Self-Motivated, Instead

For your top performers, their self-motivational needs were already being met. You’re communicating in a way they like to be communicated, and the environment within which they’re working fits their needs. Most importantly, the job and tasks are a good fit for what motivates them at work every day.

Your lower performers, however, have desires and preferences that likely differ from your top performers. And up until now, those needs don’t appear to have been met.

As a result, a divide between top performers and low performers has been created without intent.

The simplest way to understand what motivates members of your team is to engage in more organic conversations with them during the workday.

During these conversations, you’ll likely deduce extremely insightful self-motivators about each person, such as:

  • Whether they like to work on projects and assignments autonomously or as part of a team.
  • How they prefer to be recognized for their work, whether it be an award that displays a particular status at the organization or a more private recognition, such as a one-on-one meeting with you or another superior.
  • The methods of communication they prefer, such as open forum meetings vs. clearly written details of a particular goal or project.

Look At Projects And Career Paths Differently

By engaging in the organic discussions above, you’ll gain insight into what makes each member of your team tick. As a result, it’s up to you to design the work context, projects, goals, and communication around each individual team member.

By doing this, you’re creating the environment and job attributes most likely to suit each person and cause each team member to be more self-motivated. The end goal for you, of course, is that you’re frustrated less and your team is more engaged and is performing at a higher rate.

One additional benefit of these conversations is learning about better career paths for each team member.

You may uncover, for example, that some individuals truly love their job and have the perfect work context for this present stage of their lives. As a result, promoting them now would actually be detrimental to their career at your organization, and there may be other ways to cater to their future work desires.

Similarly, many managers unconsciously keep top performers in present roles in an attempt to protect and control positive results. Preventing career advancement causes natural drives to diminish, and as a result, creates demotivating work environments.

Instead, be keen to the new opportunities that present themselves for team members deserving of additional mentoring or job responsibilities who’d be highly motivated by such work. The goodwill and positivity you put forward by continually allowing individuals’ natural drivers to thrive, even if outside of your own department, will reap benefits for the entire organization.