What Not to Do When Trying to Motivate Your Team

Posted on 5/12/2020, 5:24:36 PM

Are you struggling to keep your team motivated during these unusual times? It could be that you are committing one of these DON'Ts. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here’s what not to do when it comes to motivating your team:

Don't: Make it all about you

Being in charge can feel like having a spotlight on you at all times. Not only is upper management expecting you to perform, but team members are looking to you for leadership and advice. That’s a lot of pressure! One of the big ways managers cope with pressure is by trying to exert control over the situation that makes them feel stressed. For instance, you might take on your team’s tasks or take away their responsibilities, because if you do them, you know they’ll get done. Maybe you brush aside feedback or questions from your team, or you feel insecure about ideas that are better than yours, so you try to avoid them. Maybe you just feel anxious, often, about your leadership abilities and how well you’re doing. 

Result: People feel you don't trust them because you’re constantly reaching for control, so they don't perform because they know you’ll pick up the slack, or your lack of trust makes them so anxious that they aren’t comfortable innovating. Your lack of trust could also make them defiant, reaching out to upper management behind your back.

The truth is, motivating your team really isn’t about you and your ego. It's about your team. Your job is to listen to them, support them, and to be there for them. If they are well supported, they will perform. One of the best ways to support them is to relinquish control. Hand over the reigns and show them you trust them. Assign people tasks and projects, consider their feedback and ideas, and resist the urge to micromanage them. 

Result: When people feel you support them and trust them with the projects you’ve assigned, they’ll feel ownership over the project. That sense of trust and ownership will motivate them to do their best. 

Don't: Forget to listen to your team

When the Challenger blew up, engineers like Bob Ebeling warned his bosses about the possibility of the explosion, and he was ignored. If someone in a leadership role had listened, and taken him seriously, a tragedy could have been avoided. Similarly, when you don’t listen to your team, you can create problems that could have been avoided.

Result: People can’t speak up, they don’t feel comfortable innovating or bringing up grievances. Communication issues rule the project. A crisis may spring up that could have been avoided completely. People don’t feel heard, so they may respond with apathy or frustration towards the project.

Whether or not you’re building spaceships, listening to the people on your team is extremely important. People feel motivated when they know their voice matters, and they’re more likely to share insights and ideas that could be critically important to the success of your project. To make people feel comfortable sharing, resist being reactive to the feedback you receive. If you respond objectionably to information, team members may feel as though they can’t trust or confide in you, and their motivation (and participation) may slip.

Oh, and sometimes (or often) people on your team will have ideas that are better than yours: which is exactly what a good leader should want. Your job is to help everyone else shine: resist the urge to let insecurity cause you to squash their light to make yours seem brighter. 

Result: Your team members voice concerns, communication issues are nipped in the bud, and people are comfortable sharing ideas that could lead to exciting product innovations. 

Don’t: Pretend to be someone you aren’t. 

Maybe you don’t have full confidence in yourself as a leader. Maybe you’ve seen the way some people lead in movies, on TV, or you’ve experienced exceptional leadership… and it doesn’t look the same as how you lead. You might want to take on the characteristics of others, or “fake it ‘til you make it”. But when it comes to motivating your team, that is not always the best approach. 

Result: Team members see your lack of confidence, and perceive you to be less competent because of it. They know you aren’t being genuine, so they don’t trust you. 

Be authentic with your team. People can usually tell when someone is pretending or overcompensating, and it makes them seem less trustworthy. Authenticity with your team builds trust, and trust is essential if you want to build a successful team. How can you be more authentic? Don’t say things you don’t mean to try and impress people. Don’t stifle parts of your personality that make you unique (as long as they’re work appropriate). Don’t hold back when you feel empathy or sympathy for a member of your team, or when it comes to praising a team member for their performance. Don’t hold back when it comes to offering honest, tactful feedback. People will feel more comfortable being authentic with you, if you lead by being authentic with them. One of the rewards? They’ll trust you more, and they’ll feel comfortable being more candid with you. That honest relationship will provide you with tools to lead more effectively, and give you a genuine pulse on how members of the team are handling their responsibilities. 

Result: Team members feel genuinely connected to you and to the project. They can trust that what you say is genuine. They feel like they can be authentic with you, and they feel valued.

Don’t: Forget that trust is one of the MOST important parts of motivating your team.

Every point we’ve made so far has brought us to the most important part of working with a team: trust. If a team doesn’t have trust in you, or if you don’t have trust in them, it can create a whole slew of problems.

Result: Team members don’t trust you, so they don’t share meaningful feedback, ideas, or information. They don’t work as hard because they don’t feel connected to you or valued. 

Building up trust means that your team feels not only like they can come to you with ideas that are out of the box, but, it also means that they won’t be afraid to come to you when their work environment becomes toxic, when they have an idea, need extra support, or when they notice a fatal flaw in your plan that they might be afraid to bring up otherwise. Build trust with your team by doing the things we mentioned above: be authentic, don’t make things all about you, and listen. There are many situations where you can create trust with your workers: for instance, when someone brings up an issue: don’t blow up at them. Take their complaints seriously. On the smallest scale, it will take you a little extra time, but on the grand scale, it can have enormous rewards like avoiding making critical errors. Teams will feel motivated when they feel they can trust you. They’ll be free to do their best work, leading to the best possible outcome, for you and for them. 

Result: Team is motivated. They want to do their best work because they feel valued, you feel valued, and the project (if it were sentient) would also feel valued.

Still not quite satisfied? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Check out our summaries on leadership:

Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best... and Learn from the Worst by Robert I. Sutton

Finding my Virginity by Richard Branson

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