What Motivates Teams?

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Annette Dubrouillet

I walked into a Department of Defense building a few years back. The halls were a boring grey I had seen in so many office buildings. The doors to the offices, the signs on the doors, even the framed announcements all had the same, bland look to them. But as I opened the door to the office I’d come to visit, I was barraged by flashes of bright colors, sounds of energetic music, and—mostly—spicy, inviting smells of something delicious cooking. The admin near the desk saw the amazed look on my face and told me, “It’s our giant chili cook-off today.” She followed that statement with a snap of two fingers and the happy roll of the eyes. 

I don’t have to tell you about the attitude of the people in that office, do I? I don’t have to explain the fun, the jokes and the laughter. Nor do I have to tell you how long that positive attitude (and the smells of the chili) lingered in the office. I also probably don’t have to tell you how low absenteeism was that day.

Now, consider if this team had planned their chili cook-off the week after a downsizing was announced? What if it was planned just after they missed their deadline on a major project?  What if the team included five people who couldn’t eat spicy food?

Obviously, motivating a team isn’t as easy as planning some big, fun event (you need to know more than food allergies and beverage preferences). However, it can be similar in the way you have to plan and take into account each individual’s needs and wants in order for them to have a good time—or in this case, be successful.
 

Here are three of the components of successful team motivation:

1.      Know where the team is in Tuckman’s stages of team development. Are they forming, storming, norming, or performing?  You don’t want to be celebrating a team with a lot of infighting, when they’re trying hard to get a major task accomplished, or when they have just formed a team and haven’t even accomplished anything yet. Take into consideration where they are in the process and react accordingly.

2.      Know what motivates that particular team. So often we try to motivate people with our own motivators instead of taking a look at what works well for others. Some teams are motivated by group activities, others by time off or money. Offering the wrong incentive won’t motivate anyone to work hard. 

3.      Knowing what else might be going on in that specific department (or even the entire organization) might skew what is going to be a motivator as well. You can’t predict everything that is going to happen, but you can plan around what you are aware of.
 

The biggest problem of not considering these three factors is that what you’ve chosen to motivate can look insincere at best or manipulative at worst. 

Taking the time to match motivators with the functioning status of the team, the preferences of the team members and state of the organization/department will go a long way to ensure motivators indeed motivate. Good timing, a thorough understanding of what makes your team tick, and a solid awareness of happenings in the office help greatly to motivate a team and may simplify the planning of your next office chili cook-off.  
 


In both admin and management roles, Annette has been on many different teams. She has watched as teams accomplish amazing success, only to fall apart over the slightest disagreement. She became a leader herself and guided teams through up-sizing and downsizing, accolades and scrutiny, the good, the bad and the ugly. She has applied her vast experience to her own training and consulting firm, Decision Drivers LLC.  She is the author of the very practical and beneficial book, “Make No Mistake:  How to Make the Best Decision the First Time.” You can learn more from Annette about motivating teams at EFAM 2014. She’ll be presenting “Leading and Keeping Your Team Energized” on Monday, July 28 from 3:30 – 5:00 pm. You can also learn more by visiting Annette’s website www.bestdecisionfirsttime.com, the Decision Drivers, LLC facebook page or following her on twitter@decisiondrivers   

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