Managing Groups and Teams/Motivation

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What Is Motivation?

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In the most general of terms, motivation is the psychological feature that arouses an individual to action toward a desired goal. Motivation can also be the reason for an individual's action or that which gives purpose and direction to behavior. In other words, motivation is an incentive that generates goal-directed behaviors.

Motivational Theory

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Motivation comes in many forms and what motivates one individual is not necessarily the same for their team members. Therefore, it is important to understand how motivation differs among individuals and how these differences affect the overall drive and determination of a team toward a goal. To better understand the complexities of motivation researchers over the years have developed a number of theories to try to explain why people behave in the ways that they do and to try to predict what people actually will do, based on these theories. These theories, called motivational theories are often split into two categories –content theories and process theories.

Content theories are centered on finding what makes people tick or appeals to them. These theories suggest that people have certain needs and/or desires which have been internalized as they mature to adulthood. These theories look at what it is about certain people that make them want the things that they do and what things in their environment will make them do or not do certain things. Two popular content theories are Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Theory and Hertzberg's Two Factor Theory.

Process theories focus on how and by what goals people are motivated. Process theories of motivation look at what people are thinking about when they decide whether or not to put effort into a particular activity. There are of a number of this type of approach to motivation theory one of which is Adam’s Equity Theory.

Industrial psychologists have used these ideas on motivational theory to develop management theories based on what we have learned motivates individuals. Nearly all motivational theory, regardless of the approach outlines significant differences in how individuals are motivated on their own and how they are motivated when being part of a team. Team motivation tends to be much more difficult. There are more possibilities to motivate a team, yet at the same time there are more motivational factors to fulfill for a team in order to gain motivation.

Team Motivation

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Motivational factors differ since the goals of the individual and the team are often not on the same level. The individual will always fight to fulfill their higher level needs. These needs are often not consistent with the needs of the team and of the individual. The motivation of the individual is essential for successful motivation of the team. Team members must be able to fulfill their higher level needs to be motivated and team members must be committed to the team. Along with good leadership that enables team members to fulfill their goals all of these qualities will motivate a team. These motivation factors that drive a team can be divided into four categories– task, structure, goals, and members. By realizing other factors besides intrinsic rewards that will motivate individuals, the team will also be motivated. The sharing of knowledge, support, solidarity and communication are all highly effective in motivating a team. All in all, a team that exists within a collaborative, structured and communicative environment will be highly motivated.

Overall, there are consequences when teams lack motivation. By examining the consequences in the areas of task, structure, goals, and members, we are able to recognize how motivation is lost and proactively address any issues in the future.

Lack of Motivation in Teams

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Teams that lack motivation will rarely reach their full potential or perform to the best of their ability. In most cases, it is not the entire team that lacks motivation, but individuals on the team that lack motivation.

Motivation and Team Dynamics

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Almost all teams have members who are changing or transitioning in and out of the team; and requirements and tasks within the team are constantly modified and becoming more focused on the goal. In fact, teams that never change can become stagnant; this leads to decreased motivation within the team. Therefore, monitoring the motivating factors within the team is vital to team success and increased motivation for the future. The keys to successfully managing these motivating factors in an environment of constant team dynamics require understanding the team members, understanding the team goals, and providing consistent leadership throughout the project or life of the team.

Understand Team Members

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When the team is first formed, the team leader needs to pay careful attention to the type of person that is selected in the team. Selecting two individuals, who may be similar in many aspects yet are motivated by two contradictory methods, may make it impossible to motivate one while not offending the other. Then trying to determine the individual that is less likely to be either unmotivated or un-offended by the motivation techniques employed may cause additional problems, such as perceived favoritism or dislike towards certain team members.

Even if the initial team members are perfectly chosen, taking all motivation requirements into account, new members will probably be added later to either provide additional support or to take the place of a departing team member. Understanding the current team members' motivation requirements and those of potential team members may be even more important at this time because the current team is already progressing and the motivation techniques required to motivate new team members may be detrimental to the current team members’ efforts and goals.

Understanding the team members' motivation needs both at inception of the team and also throughout the ever-changing environment of the team will result in proper motivation techniques and greater success for the team.

Understand Team Goals

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Team goals can be short-term task-specific goals, long-term organizational goals or any combination thereof. In addition, these goals may be constantly updated or changed, especially short-term task-specific goals, as the business environment changes or as tasks and goals are accomplished.

Different types of goals may require different types of motivation. For example, a team might be motivated to work hard on a project for an extra couple of weeks if they are rewarded with a three or four-day weekend once it is completed; or maybe if the company has no work-related accidents for the year everyone receives an extra percentage bonus during the holiday season.

An understanding of the team goals, in all varieties, is neither more nor less important as understanding the team members who are trying to accomplish these goals. These two factors are interdependent in determining the motivation tactics that should be employed to maximize success within the team.

Provide Consistent Leadership

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Because there is so much change with team members and associated team goals, providing consistent leadership is essential to motivating team members. If possible, keeping the same individual in charge will keep the team members focused on their goal rather than on determining what a new leader expects of them. Team members may be motivated to make their new boss happy rather than being motivated to achieve the team goals.

Additionally, with constantly changing leadership, many team members may assume the team they belong to is undesirable to leaders. Team members may think leaders are "jumping ship" because they know they will not succeed; and in turn, managing a poorly achieving team puts a black mark on own leadership abilities.

No matter how hard individual team leaders try to stay with a team, change is inevitable for team leaders as well. To mitigate the problems mentioned above, two strategies can be employed:

  1. Maintain consistent expectations from the former to the new team leader
  2. Utilize the current motivational techniques that work.

Both of these strategies require as much communication as possible between the former and the new leader. In addition, communication to the team members throughout the transition process provides motivation to the team because they will understand what is expected of them, and they will feel like they are part of the process. This communication between the leaders and to the team members is the responsibility of the team leaders, but team members should try to make sure they are available and receptive to this communication.

An appreciation for the subtleties that exist in human behavior and team dynamics will better enable the understanding of team motivation. Understanding team members, understanding team goals, and providing consistent leadership should help provide the motivation required to achieve success.

Motivating Team Members

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Many top managers assume that the key to motivation is the proper use of the available motivational "tools." This is making an enormous assumption that some magical tool actually exists that will motivate an individual. This is one of the common myths regarding motivation. According to Authenticity Consulting LLC advisor Carter McNamara, tools are not what motivate individuals. Motivation is a process, not the end result of a task. Specifically regarding the question posed to our team, motivation is not catered to an individual because of their experience or position. It is catered to an individual because they ARE an individual. This goes for the long-tenured employee as well as the newest member of the team.

Motivational Myths

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McNamara discusses three motivational myths that can help us better understand the process of motivation. The first myth is that one person can motivate another. This is simply not true. An employee has to motivate themselves. As a manager you have to establish an environment that will cultivate and bring forth the personal motivational factors of each individual. This can be accomplished through establishing team goals based on the goals of the individuals. If an individual is motivated towards a goal and the goal has no relation to the team goal, they will not continue to motivate themselves because their results will have no real team value. This is why it is important that managers fully and frequently discuss the organizational goals with their employees.

The second myth is that money and fear are good motivators. According to McNamara, money can only help people from being less motivated. It does not typically increase motivation in an individual. Fear, like money, is only useful in the short term. The same repeated criticism or threat from a manager can negatively impact the motivation of the employee.

"I know what motivates me, so I know what motivates my employees," is the third myth. Everyone is different. Motivational factors can vary to every extreme. However, what can be uniform for everyone is the goal they are trying to reach. Managers need to identify and understand what motivates each employee to reach the common organizational goal. This can be done by asking, observing and listening to your employees. They will give tremendous insight into their motivational factors through their daily, menial conversations. Often what motivates an individual is what they show the most enthusiasm for. This needs to be followed up with sincere one-on-one meetings to discuss accomplishments and to modify goals based on evolving motivational factors.

Steps to Employee Motivation

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Finally, McNamara recommends some steps that managers can take to better support their employees in motivating themselves. First, managers need to write down what they think motivates each of their employees and ask the employee to do the same. They then compare results with the employee and discuss the differences and misconceptions. Next, the results are used to establish a reward system based on self-stated motivational factors. Finally, managers need to reward and acknowledge positive behaviors. Employees need to know when an organizational goal has been met as a result of their actions. They need to clearly understand their specific action or actions that led to the goal being met. Once this is done it is a time to celebrate. Celebration among the team of a job well done is the first step in accomplishing the next organizational goal.


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New Leaders · Team Inclusion