We’ve talked about ways to motivate individual employees, focusing on positive reinforcement. What about when you’re tasked with motivating teams?
Even small efforts can have a huge effect on team motivation, as behavioral economist Dan Ariely points out in his Ted Talk, “What Makes Us Feel Good About Our Work?” He and other experts have come up with several simple tactics to motivate: challenge your team, involve everyone and wait to show appreciation until it’s warranted.
Ariely gives mountain climbing as an example of hard work motivating people. Mountain climbers endure physical misery on the way to the peak, yet once they achieve their goal, they go back for more. “We care about reaching the peak. We care about the fight,” Ariely says.
The ‘Ikea Effect’
Ariely calls this the “Ikea effect.” Furniture from the Swedish company is notoriously challenging to assemble — “but it’s rewarding,” he says, and therefore more valuable to the person who puts it together.
He also points to a lesson that cake mix manufacturers learned in the 1950s: cake mix that requires the addition of eggs and milk turned out to be more popular than cake mix that only needs water. It seems counter-intuitive — just-add-water cake mix is obviously easier. But adding a few basic ingredients creates a sense of “ownership.”
A team invested in achieving clear goals is likely to work harder. Seeing the fruit of their work is also a motivator. Ariely talks about a study in which participants were asked to do paperwork in two groups. One group saw the pages they created shredded as soon as they finished; the other group saw a manager look over each page and acknowledge it. Unsurprisingly, the first group was demoralized and more likely to cheat.
When “you shred or ignore people’s output, you give them no reason to do well,” he said.
Give Teams the Opportunity to Self-Discover
Scott Keller, in a blog for Harvard Business Review, comes to a similar conclusion about motivating a team toward a goal. Instead of telling the team the solution, let them “self-discover” and come up with their own plan. He quotes John Chambers, chairman and CEO of networking specialist Cisco Systems.
“It was hard for me at first to learn to be collaborative. The minute I’d get into a meeting, I’d listen for about 10 minutes while the team discussed a problem. I knew what the answer was, and eventually I’d say, ‘All right, here’s what we’re going to do.’ But when I learned to let go and give the team the time to come to the right conclusion, I found they made just as good decisions, or even better — and just as important, they were even more invested in the decision and thus executed with greater speed and commitment.”
Praise Individually and Only When It’s Deserved
Lastly, when it comes to praising good work, wait until it’s warranted. A Forbes post that originally appeared on The Daily Muse cautions against the “participation trophy” mentality.
“Compliments tend to lose their meaning if they’re given out just because, or if they’re distributed evenly across the team for no reason other than to mitigate hurt feelings. … Yes, employee recognition is meant to be a motivational tool, but if everyone in the group knows they’re going to get a ‘good job!’ — what motivation does that create? Everyone should be recognized at some point, of course, but each one only when he or she truly deserves it.”
Rewards accompanied by meaningful praise let employees know you’re sincere — and mean business.
To learn more ways to recognizing individuals and teams in your workplace, download our free eBook below.
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