Summit Team Building

Motivate Your Team Using These 4 Strategies

4 surprising strategies to motivate your team.

Motivation. Just to be transparent with you from the get-go – this is a hard topic to write about. Motivating your team is a key part of every team leader’s job description, yet – if we’re honest – every single one of us struggles with this (unless you’ve been blessed with an amazing team, in which case, you’re probably not here reading this).

There are a myriad of books, articles and resources floating around about motivation. Really, there’s so much that it’s often hard to know exactly where to start and which strategies actually work. If you’re looking for a quick and simple 10-step plan to fix your team’s motivation problem, I’m sorry to say you might be out of luck.

Is that – ironically – demotivating? I’m so sorry – I promise that if you keep reading on, I have an idea that might make a difference.

Intrinsic Motivation: What We Already Know

In our experience in the world of leadership training, one of the most profoundly impactful books that have shaped how we view motivation here at Summit is Dan Pink’s Drive. Pink argues that the key to motivation is tapping into people’s intrinsic motivation, which requires autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Yet, this powerful idea still leaves an important question: how, in our real lives, do we help our team tap into their intrinsic motivation? Even after we’ve tried to give our teams autonomy and drill into their heads our company’s purpose, we often find that they’re still struggling with motivation.

The Power of Motivational Interviewing

This is the point where I want to pitch to you a new way of thinking about how to motivate your team.

In recent decades, psychotherapists – who are used to dealing with addicts who struggle with finding the motivation to overcome their addictions – have developed a research-supported strategy called motivational interviewing (MI) to help their struggling patients find their motivation to change.

The biggest idea we can take from this strategy is this: motivating people happens in the context of carefully facilitated conversation, built on a trusting, nonjudgmental relationship.


4 Strategies for a Motivational Conversation

Here’s the hard truth – if you want to motivate your team, you need to remember that every individual is different. Without taking the time to have a focused conversation with each member of your team who’s struggling with motivation, your efforts to motivate your team as a whole may not be sustainable.

When you do, here are four key strategies of MI to use in your conversation:

Engage the Individual

You need to begin the conversation by establishing a positive and caring relationship with your team member. Make sure you demonstrate empathy, use careful listening, and show that you understand the other person by using reflection (e.g., what I’m hearing is this…). Also remember to affirm the individual’s strengths and show them that you genuinely care.

Example Question: What is important to you? 

Focus the Conversation

After establishing the foundational relationship, you will need to agree to a shared purpose of the conversation – to help the individual explore their motivation. This gives you, as a leader, permission to direct the conversation toward the core issue at hand.

Example Question: What aspect of motivation would you like to focus on today? 

Evoke the Truth

This is the part where you gently and carefully support your team member into exploring the why behind their motivational problems and their need for change. Expect ambivalence and resistance in the process and be open to exploring it without judgement – this is the only way you can help them overcome it. Stay curious and remain supportive and non-judgemental. 

Example Question: What holds you back? 

Plan for Change

When you both feel that you have identified the core issues, direct the conversation towards the practical next steps. Work with the individual to develop a plan for change based on what has been revealed in the conversation, and remind them of their capacity to change and make a difference. Follow up with whatever support and accountability that they need.

Example Question: What steps feel right, right now? What’s within your control? 

The Importance of a Trusting Relationship

Ultimately, the effectiveness of this conversation in facilitating changes in your team member’s motivation rests on the amount of trust there is in that relationship. If the individual doesn’t actually trust you, all you’ll get from that conversation – no matter how well facilitated – is what they think you want to hear. As you can guess, this doesn’t actually help either of you.

This, however, is really the hard part – developing trust takes genuine care, persistence, and investment. If you’re struggling with building trusting relationships with your team, we’re here to help.

First of all, check out our Building Trust training workshop, where we’ll teach you and your team the ins and outs of building trust, coupled with some experiential activities to turn theory into reality.

Further, check out our 20+ options for Team Building programs, where we’ll facilitate a shared experience for you and your team that will allow you to initiate some genuine connection in your team.

We’re here to help, and we’re rooting for you and your team!

Lewis Lau

With a BA in Psychology and MA in Applied Health Sciences from Brock University, Lewis has spent the past decade reviewing and conducting original empirical research on leadership and team development. He is especially passionate about drawing applicable and relevant insights from current and credible empirical studies from various disciplines, and believes high-quality, intersectional research should inform best practices.

Most Recent Posts