Managing & Motivating Teams

This can be a big subject … but, like many other seemingly complex subjects, it can be translated into some basic quite simple principles and processes. So, that’s what we are going to do.

Firstly, of course, one important issue is whether you are building – or have built – the team … or whether you have ‘inherited’ an existing team. This is important because team do not necessarily form by bringing together a set of individuals – you need to put together a group that has complementary knowledge and skills, appropriate to the tasks in hand. It is no use building a group that share the same skillset … or you have a collection of individuals, rather than a team. So, if you have the chance, think carefully about how you build a team … and explain to people why they are in the team, what they bring to it and what you expect of them. This is the first stage in ensuring they are motivated. It is almost impossible to motivate those who do not know what they are supposed to be doing … and preferably, why.

You now know what the role is of each member of the team .. .but they should know what your role is ... hands-on or hands-off, manager or leader, boss or first among equals. None of these is right or wrong … your position and role will differ on different projects. Just make sure it is clear. What you do have to be careful about is mixing roles … trying to be friend and boss, for example. What people want is consistency …. So if you might have to ‘bawl someone out’, don’t set off trying to be their friend . What you need is not their friendship but their respect (which should come from how you behave, not from who you are).

So, we have our team. We presumably have a task or project to be completed and we probably have a deadline. So, make sure this information is shared. Make sure the team knows why it is important. Although it is perhaps an overused word, try to create a ‘vision’ – even for something which is quite simple. … something which the team can look to as ‘their future’. It might just be the implementation of a new machine or a changed work process ... .but if the vision is one of a more efficient, more in-control, workgroup … there is something to look forward to … something to motivate.

Be clear that this is a task or project that needs the team to work together … and one that needs to exploit all their skills and abilities. This is not a project for prima donnas. It is a project for exceptional skill … but as part of the team effort.

Unless the task is quite small and short, it will be necessary to set sub-goals … for the team, perhaps for sub-groups, and for the contribution of each individual. (You know that these must be SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound … if you don’t look up SMART objectives on the web!)

It helps, of course, if some of these goals can be reached quite quickly. This generates a mood of success, of achievement … and can lead to some small celebrations of this achievement which reinforces the motivation. These celebrations have to be team celebrations, of course, even if one individual was mainly responsible for this element of progress,

As goals are achieved, it is important to maintain momentum … it is too easy for people to reach a goals and ‘take their foot off the pedal’. Your role – or the role of a leader you have appointed – is to celebrate the achievement and, at the same time, motivate the team towards the next goal. If these are related, this is easier (“now we’ve done this, we’re well on the way to …”) but it must be done.

Throughout the task or project, you have to get the team to contribute their own ideas. Depending on the project, this might be about the change itself, or the way in which the change is best achieved. The reason for this is that people (and teams) do not resist the changes they themselves have designed 9or contributed to the design of). Of course you have also to take in the views of those who will be affected by the change … and a degree of empathy between the team and the ‘victims’ is essential. (Hopefully, some of these ‘victims’ are also members of the team.) To get them to submit ideas, you have to;

(a) let them know (and really know) that their ideas are valued

(b) give them the time and opportunity to think!

Throughout the project always remember that tasks are simple … people are complex. Concentrate on the people, what they expect and what they need if they are to accomplish what you set out to do. Someone has to be the one to identify and remove barriers … and that someone is probably you. The team has to see you show by your behaviour that this project is important to you … it then becomes more important to them.

As you get near the end, make sure that team members know what happens at the end … if they are fearful, they might not want to finish … and might start slowing progress (perhaps unconsciously). If they know whether the team is staying together … or what happens if it doesn’t, at least they are clear. Of course it helps if what happens fits with their aspirations … but in any case, clarity is always best.

Finish! When the project is complete, celebrate the end … and celebrate the effort. Hopefully, at the same time you will be celebrating success.


Productivity is my 'bag' ... it is what I know about. I am President of the World Confederation of Productivity Science - and Director of the National Productivity Centre in the UK - go to this site for some good free resources and some (paid for but low price) e-learning on productivity. I also edit the International Journal of Productivity & Performance Management. My views on productivity and on learning (which I think are related) are su...

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