5 Practical Ways Leaders Can Motivate Their Teams Right Now

5 Practical Ways Leaders Can Motivate Their Teams Right Now

The issue of how can a leader motivate their team might seem complicated in today’s era of hybrid work, but we promise you that the rules of human psychology haven’t changed much. Let me explain:

Imagine you’re a conductor standing in front of an orchestra. Each musician is highly skilled, but unless they’re motivated to play in harmony, the music will fall flat. Similarly, leading a team is about more than just having talented individuals. It’s about inspiring them to put out their best work—and to do it as a team!

If you’ve sensed a lag in your team’s performance or noticed a dip in enthusiasm, you’re not alone. Lack of motivation is a problem that plagues teams across sectors and skill levels. But unlike a dissonant musical piece, this issue can be corrected, and you’re the one holding the baton.

In this post, we’ll share 5 practical strategies for leaders looking to tune their teams to perfect harmony. Most importantly, we’ll include an action you can take right now to help turn your team’s motivation around today!

Preface: The Two Types of Motivation

Before we go on, let’s first take a second to understand the two types of motivation. Not knowing the difference can spell big trouble for your efforts in motivating your team.

Extrinsic Motivation

This type of motivation comes from external factors or rewards, such as salary hikes, promotions, or praise from a supervisor. In other words, extrinsically motivated people are driven to act in certain ways to gain external rewards or avoid penalties. For example, an employee might put in extra hours to win “Employee of the Month” or to secure a bonus.

While extrinsic motivators can be highly effective in achieving short-term goals, there’s one problem:

They may not sustain an individual’s interest and commitment in the long run! Especially if the rewards stop coming.

Plus, they won’t necessarily help your teams get along better with each other. Employees often claim that simply having “more pay” would make them more motivated to work. However, that motivator has little to do with resolving any issues they might have with leadership or their coworkers.

Intrinsic Motivation

On the other hand, intrinsic motivation comes from within the individual. It’s the drive to do something because it’s personally rewarding or fulfilling, not because of an external reward. People who are intrinsically motivated engage in a behavior because they find it interesting, challenging, or satisfying in a deep, internal sense. For instance, a software developer might take on a complex project not for the financial reward but because they find the problem-solving aspect to be deeply fulfilling. Intrinsic motivation is often more sustainable in the long term because it’s tied to an individual’s interests and values, rather than external rewards.

Intrinsic motivators are what will help sustain your team’s motivation for the long-run. Ideally, your team members were hired because they align with the company’s own values and motivations. Take note, however, that employees may not be open to new initiatives for intrinsic motivation if their extrinsic needs haven’t been met. For example, if you buy a foosball table for the office thinking it will increase camaraderie, but have failed to address ongoing concerns about pay or benefits, it might have the opposite effect.

Over all, understanding these two types of motivation can help leaders design strategies that engage employees more effectively. A blend of both extrinsic and intrinsic motivational methods can create a well-rounded approach to encouraging high performance and job satisfaction.

1. Setting Clear Goals

Emily, an enthusiastic but inexperienced hiker, ventured into a national park with her seasoned hiker friend, Sarah. Ignoring Sarah’s advice to set a specific goal like reaching the summit or a waterfall, Emily insisted on just “enjoying nature.” Hours later, they found themselves lost until a Park Ranger guided them back, stressing the importance of having a clear goal for direction. Emily learned that setting a goal isn’t limiting; it’s like a guiding star that helps you navigate through the complexities of any journey, ensuring you get the most out of the experience.

In a professional setting, the lesson Emily learned translates directly into the importance of setting clear goals when managing and motivating a team. Without well-defined objectives, team members can become the corporate equivalent of lost hikers—engaged in tasks but lacking a unifying direction, leading to inefficiencies or even conflicts. Goals act as the team’s “guiding star,” providing both focus and motivation. They also give your team leader the ability to allocate resources wisely and give team members a sense of purpose. It’s also a great way to ensure everyone tracks their progress and celebrates their achievements. Not only will it help provide better results, but it will also create a healthy work environment.

Clear Goals are Measurable Goals

In order to give employees a sense of ownership for their goals, make sure they’re measurable goals. For example, when it comes to our personal goals—such as starting a fitness routine—we need a clear objective to help prioritize our actions. If our goal is to lose a certain amount of weight, we can show up every day ready to lose just a little bit of weight. Keeping that goal in mind will lead us to make better choices, like choosing healthy snacks over that donut or candy bar.

Likewise, to keep our employees headed in the right direction, we need to use SMART goals to help them reach their full potential. It will help eliminate the feeling of being “lost,” enabling them to make informed decisions. By applying this principle to your team, you not only increase everyone’s chances of success by focusing on common goals but also help everyone find their sense of fulfillment by taking ownership of their work.

Take Immediate Action:

Call a quick team meeting or send out a focused email to establish a “Goal of the Week.” Make it specific and achievable, then ask everyone to align their work toward achieving this immediate goal.

2. Open and Honest Communication

According to Salesforce, 86% of employees and executives attribute workplace failures to one of two things:

  • Ineffective communication
  • Lack of collaboration

Unsurprisingly, the two go hand in hand! The bigger picture is that open and honest communication play a huge place in the workplace. Lack of effective communication can lead to misunderstandings, decreased productivity, and even project failures. Likewise, failing to foster a positive work environment where employees feel comfortable sharing ideas, concerns, and feedback can significantly decrease team collaboration and overall success.

Fortunately, implementing open and honest communication can help resolve both of these issues. Here’s how that works:

Think of open and honest communication in the workplace as the nervous system in the human body. Just as the nervous system transmits signals between the brain and the rest of the body for optimal functioning, effective communication ensures that everyone in an organization—from project manager to frontline staff—is aligned and moving in the same direction. When there’s a “nerve blockage,” or breakdown in communication, vital information gets lost or distorted. This can lead to:

  • Inefficiencies
  • Misunderstandings
  • and sometimes, outright failure!

Just as you can’t expect your body to perform well with a compromised nervous system, you can’t expect a team to succeed without a strong culture of honest and open communication.

How the Best Leaders Resolve Communication Issues

A good leader knows that the most effective way to lead is by example. When they exemplify the qualities that pave the way to effective communication, they can expect their team to follow suit.

  1. Active Listening: Great leaders know that communication isn’t just about speaking; it’s also about listening. Active listening involves fully concentrating, understanding, and responding thoughtfully to what the other person is saying. This can clear up misunderstandings quickly and helps team members feel heard and valued.
  2. Transparency: Effective leaders are transparent in their actions and decisions. They keep their teams in the loop about what’s happening in the organization, including both successes and failures. This kind of open communication builds trust, eliminates the rumor mill, and helps everyone understand the bigger picture, making it easier to solve issues collectively.
  3. Constructive Feedback: Top leaders are skilled in giving—and receiving—feedback in a way that’s constructive rather than demoralizing. They focus on the issue at hand rather than making it personal, and they frame criticism in a way that encourages growth and improvement. This creates an environment where team members feel comfortable discussing their challenges openly, leading to quicker and more effective problem-solving.

Take Immediate Action:

Open a dedicated communication channel (like a Slack channel or an email thread) solely for sharing constructive feedback and ideas. Encourage team members to post one thing they’re working on and one challenge they’re facing, and invite others to offer suggestions or assistance.

3. Recognizing and Rewarding Achievements

Imagine a garden where the gardener, akin to a leader, tends to a variety of plants. Rather than just watering and fertilizing, the gardener also stakes tall flowers to prevent them from drooping and shields young saplings from harsh winds. These individual acts of recognition make the plants more likely to thrive, enriching the garden for seasons to come.

Similarly, when a leader recognizes an employee’s unique contributions, that employee becomes like the carefully nurtured plant—more likely to stay and positively contribute to the overall workplace ecosystem. in fact, it makes 63% of employees more likely to stay in their current roles within the next three to six months! Individual recognition is a practical and immediate strategy for team motivation and retention that motivational leaders can’t afford to pass up.

Every Individual Employee Contributes to a Motivated Workforce

Adopting a personalized approach to employee recognition carries multiple benefits that extend far beyond mere retention. Just as the nurtured plants in a garden are more likely to bloom or bear fruit, recognized employees often exhibit increased productivity, greater engagement, and a stronger commitment to organizational goals. The ripple effect of this positive reinforcement can energize an entire team, creating a productive work environment built on mutual respect and high performance.

Moreover, team members who feel valued are often more willing to go the extra mile, not because they have to, but because they want to contribute to a collective success (that’s the “intrinsic motivation” we were talking about before!). This heightened morale leads to better collaboration and a more cohesive team, which can be crucial for tackling complex projects and tight deadlines.

In short, taking the time to recognize and appreciate your team members isn’t just a “nice-to-have” leadership quality; it’s a motivation strategy that can yield immediate and long-lasting returns for your team’s productivity and overall workplace satisfaction.

Take Immediate Action:

Take 10 minutes at the end of the day to acknowledge and publicly praise a team member who has done exceptional work recently. Whether it’s a shout-out in a team meeting or a recognition post on the company intranet, the key is to make it immediate and public.

4. Providing Opportunities for Professional Growth

When Sarah joined a new tech startup, she was enthusiastic but relatively inexperienced. Her manager, Mark, noticed her eagerness to learn and took the initiative to not only provide her with challenging projects but also to pair her with a senior developer for mentorship. Additionally, Mark offered Sarah opportunities to attend industry workshops and even speak at a company meeting about a successful project she had led.

As a result, Sarah didn’t just become a more skilled developer; she became a well-rounded professional who felt invested in her own growth and, by extension, the success of the company. She began taking on more leadership roles within her team and even spearheaded an initiative to optimize the company’s software development process. This contributed significantly to a key project that landed a major client. Not only did Sarah stay with the company, but she also became one of its most valuable assets, all because her leader provided tangible opportunities for her professional growth.

Does this story sound too good to be true? Okay, you got us—we totally made it up. But the data behind the story is factual:

94% of employees would stay at a company that invests in their development. 

However, just giving them the options isn’t enough. The same study found the #1 reason employees held back from learning is that their employees don’t give them enough time to learn!

Opportunities Mean Nothing If They Aren’t Taken!

Returning to analogy of the garden, think of it as planting a seed but never watering it—you can’t expect it to grow without the proper care. In a high-paced work environment, employees may be bombarded with tasks and deadlines that make it nearly impossible to step back and focus on skill development, even if resources like workshops, courses, or mentorship programs are available.

Therefore, leaders need to consciously allocate time for their team members to engage in these growth activities. This may mean lightening their workload for a short period, allowing for flexible hours, or even integrating learning hours into the workweek. Without the time to absorb new skills and apply them, the opportunity for professional growth remains an unrealized potential, much like a seed that never gets the chance to sprout.

Take Immediate Action:

Share a valuable industry-related article, video tutorial, or upcoming webinar in your team chat or email. Encourage everyone to take 30 minutes by the end of the week to consume the content and share one takeaway during the next team meeting.

5. Cultivating a Positive Team Culture

Team culture is a big deal, but it’s often ignored. It’s what makes your team more than just a group of people working together. When the vibe is positive, everyone works better, is happier, and wants to do their best. Plus, a good team culture helps people get along and solve problems more easily.

  • Better Teamwork: A positive culture helps team members trust each other more. When people trust each other, they work together better, communicate more openly, and get more done.
  • Higher Job Satisfaction: When the team culture is good, people enjoy coming to work. They feel valued and appreciated, which boosts their job satisfaction and can even make them more loyal to the company.
  • Faster Problem-Solving: A positive environment encourages people to speak up and share ideas. This means problems get solved faster because everyone is working together to find solutions, instead of pointing fingers or avoiding the issue.

The Signs of a Negative Team Culture

Imagine a startup with talented staff and a great product. Despite these assets, the office atmosphere is tense. People don’t share information, afraid others might steal their ideas or outshine them. Team meetings are quiet, filled with the fear of criticism. You can begin to imagine how these dominos create a chain reaction that will lead to bigger problems. It can lead to problems such as:

  • Duplicated work: As teams fail to share information, they repeat work on accident. Or, perhaps two teams feel that their own approach to solving a problem is the best. Not only will that create unnecessary extra work, but it could lead to them creating an unsatisfactory final result.
  • Slow progress: Without easy communication, the opportunities for creativity and innovation will dwindle. In turn, this will effect your team’s overall ability to push the needle forward.
  • Key talent quitting: When teams go toxic, don’t be surprised to find your top talent turning away for better opportunities. Good employees know their worth, and they won’t stick around in a bad situation.

In the end, our imagined startup’s transformation into a toxic team wasn’t just a ‘people problem’; it became a business problem that contributed to the company’s downfall.

Take Immediate Action:

Initiate a “Positive Moments” daily or weekly thread where team members are encouraged to share one positive thing that happened to them in their workday. This can be as simple as solving a difficult problem, getting positive feedback from a client, or enjoying a peaceful coffee break.