Summit Team Building

Three Key Motivation Interview Questions to Help Find the Extra Milers

High school group projects

These are four provocative words that can bring up a whole lot of feelings for many of us…particularly if you were a keener.

Chances are, if you’re reading this post, I’d venture to say that you were probably a keener. So, hey, thanks for joining us, because we were too.

As you may recall, there are two potential circumstances for us in group projects. In the first circumstance, we’re matched with other keeners whose motivation brings out the competitive side of us and pushes us to work even harder. In the second, we quarterback the project and carry the other members of the group on our backs, much to our frustration.

Regardless, the key point we want to draw your attention to today is this – as keeners, or ‘extra-milers’ – we disproportionately impact the productivity of our groups and the quality of our group’s work.


Flash forward to today – a 2014 study by researchers from the University of Iowa shows us a similar pattern in the context of work. Having a keener or ‘extra miler’ in a team pushes others in the team to be more effective. In other words, it seems that an effective way to elevate the motivation and effectiveness of a team is to place an ‘extra miler’ right in the center of it. Namely, not simply ‘high performers’, but those who are willing to go above and beyond their job description.

From a leadership perspective, this finding brings up a key question: how exactly do we identify these ‘extra milers’? Particularly because these extra milers are often motivated by the culture and camaraderie around them, leaders need to be extremely mindful of team composition. We need to intentionally bring on these extra milers and – unfortunately – reject those who don’t fit in with a culture of going above and beyond (i.e., the coasters).

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Nowhere is this more important than during the interview process. Based on the research mentioned above, we want to propose two kinds of motivation interview questions that you can ask potential hires and/or their former employers and colleagues in order to determine if they are ‘extra-milers’. A third type of question – based on concerns emerging in recent publications – can help you identify healthy ‘extra-milers’ who have the skills to ensure sustainability.

  1. Motivation Interview Questions That Assess for Helping Behaviors

One of the two main qualities of ‘extra milers’ is their tendency to help other team members with their work when, for instance, they are overwhelmed, or out sick. ‘Extra milers’ bring in a culture of collaboration and mutual support to the teams they’re placed in, so when interviewing for potential hires, make sure to ask them, or their references, about their willingness to support other team members.

E.g., If several of your team members are ill during a major project, how would you respond as a member of that team? How would you help your team without sacrificing progress on your own responsibilities?

  1. Motivation Interview Questions That Assess for Communication

The second key tendency of ‘extra-milers’ is their inclination to communicate and speak up regarding potential ways constructive changes can be made to enhance workflow and productivity. ‘Extra-milers’ take the time and effort to ensure that the team and its leadership are on the same page, which facilitates a culture of open communication.  When screening for new hires, make sure to examine their willingness to communicate.

E.g., How important is communication to you when working with others? What are some strategies you use to ensure open communication with team leads and fellow team members?

  1. Motivation Interview Questions That Assess for the Ability to Establish Healthy Boundaries

Unfortunately, the dark side of ‘extra milers’, as recent publications have highlighted, is burnout. The instinct that prompts ‘extra milers’ to help and benefit others – making them an asset to any team that they’re on – can also push them to become so overtaxed that they’re no longer personally effective. Therefore, beyond simply looking for ‘extra milers’, leaders need to look for healthy ‘extra milers’ who possess the skills that protect themselves from burnout. These include self-awareness, prioritization, ability to pace oneself, and the ability to develop and establish healthy boundaries.

E.g., What are some strategies that you currently employ for self-care and to prevent burnout? How do you balance these with your ability to support others on your team?

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At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that the key to building a motivating team comes down to getting the right people on board. In a team that’s full of healthy ‘extra-milers’, you’ll find a culture of adaptability, connectedness, and accountability, as team members support and push one another towards high performance.

Ultimately, being a keener pays off.

Hoping to learn more about what it takes to build a highly motivated team? Check out our High Performance Teamwork workshop program, which will give you a first-hand experience of how to develop a healthy and effective 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.

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