What is it to motivate? The Macquarie Dictionary tells us that the meaning of motivate is “to enthuse or inspire”; that the meaning of motivation is “purpose, drive”; that the meaning of motive is “something that prompts a person to act in a certain way or that determines volition, an incentive”; and that the meaning of motif is “a dominant idea or feature”.
Peeling back the history of a word’s usage often reveals nuggets of illuminating precedent. All these variations on motive have the same root in Medieval Latin mōtīvum and Middle English motif: “a moving cause.”
What strikes me is the idea of a shared cause that can prompt movement, and its relationship with the root word, ‘motif’, whose enduring meaning is “a dominant idea or feature”.
What is your organisation’s motif?
Taking a step back, what might an outsider see as the dominant feature of your organisation? What is its purpose? What is the sense of purpose that everyone working there might share?
For some organisations, this is easily distinguished. Patagonia, for instance, says this about itself:
I imagine that anyone working at Patagonia would be very aware and – yes – motivated by these distinct and well-articulated goals. They sound like goals and values that are strongly associated with their working culture.
However, some organisations have declared values and goals that fail to match their lived reality. In Australia, a number of our financial institutions’ published mission statements were shredded in the light of the recent Royal Commission where behaviours and practices were shown, in too many instances, to be flat out illegal.
Whatever the case at your organisation, it is a valuable exercise to think about what it is that actually brings your team together to work at this place, at this time. What is the defining motif that holds you there?
By the way, if at this point you are forced to admit that the defining motif of your organisation is greedily unethical, or in any fundamental way incompatible with your personal values and ethics, stop reading now. Start working on your CV instead. Time you got a new job.
Step One – What must I do to motivate?
Your first Go-To in the ‘Motivate My Team’ game should be to gather team members around that defining motif: remind them of your shared organisational purpose. This is fundamental. It is possible to have a highly motivated team, but if every member is motivated to do different things for different reasons, the net result may be chaos.
Step Two – set individual goals
If individual goals are not already in place, spend time with each team member and discuss with them, in plain terms, what it is that their positions are expected to contribute to the shared organisational goals.
Lack of role clarity is one of the most common ways to confound group motivation and goal achievement. Consider for yourself how much better you feel when you’ve had the chance to discuss in detail what your job is meant to achieve. Most of us are happy to work in a way that we know is expected, appreciated and will contribute meaningfully to organisational goals.
Step Three – look for obstacles
Keep an eye out for people or processes that can hijack your team’s motivation. For instance:
- Is there a team member who dominates in a way that generates conflict or verges on bullying?
- Is there a process that is needlessly complex, suggesting to the people obliged to follow it not efficiency but, rather, rigidity and a lack of trust?
- Does your organisation have recruitment systems which seem to always appoint the same types of people? Are there unexamined forces that suppress diversity in your team?
Do I need to sing and dance?
Are you a singer and a dancer? If so, and you think singing and dancing will help motivate your team, go ahead.
Equally, however, if you are reserved and methodical, you are just as able to motivate your team by following the above steps. Because to motivate is often defined as needing “to enthuse or inspire”, there is a common misconception that team leaders need to glow with charisma, exert unusual energies and, in general, ‘perform’ an enthusiasm-generating dance.
In fact, more than anything, you need to be yourself. The energy you waste trying to be otherwise is energy unavailable to achieving any of the above steps.
Whatever your personal style, your leadership role comes with certain obligations, some of which are discussed here. You must communicate clearly with your team members; you must make their role and organisational goals clear and achievable; you must keep an eye out for obstacles to them functioning productively.
You might find some of this difficult, but none of it relies on you having some pre-determined personality type.
2020 – time to set new goals
A new year at the start of a new decade holds a special power. Use that power to energise your resolution and make this the year where the mōtīvum of you and your team is simply astonishing!
About Rose Scott
She also managers of Worklogic’s Integrity Line service and ensures that people making a workplace complaint are given a calm and secure reception.
Please contact us for an obligation-free, confidential discussion to review and refresh the policies at your workplace.