Every team leader knows the importance of keeping their team motivated. The more motivated your team, the more productive they are, and the better results they deliver. Research suggests that the more powerful form of motivation is intrinsic, flowing from an individual’s desire to do the work or achieve the outcome for their own reasons—not bonuses, awards, or other extrinsic motivators leaders often use. But that doesn’t mean leaders are out of options.
While your team will still be best motivated through reasons that are individual, there are still a few tactics you can use to motivate your team by creating a culture and climate where intrinsic motivation is most likely to develop.
In this article, we’ll explore five effective ways to motivate your team, ensuring they remain focused, engaged, and driven to achieve their goals.
Describe the End Goal
The first way to motivate your team is to describe the end goal. Leaders achieve this by giving them a clear and tangible objective to work towards. By describing the end goal, you provide a big objective that motivates individuals and gives them a sense of purpose. This is particularly useful in ambiguous and volatile times when the path forward may not be clear.
One valuable concept to consider is letting the team know the “Commander’s Intent.” This is a clear and concise statement that defines what “done” looks like and keeps people focused. This military term refers to the practice of clearly communicating the desired end state of an operation, allowing individuals to adapt their actions to achieve this goal. This not only motivates individuals but also fosters a sense of autonomy and responsibility.
The second way to motivate your team is to set milestones. Milestones are the smaller objectives that signify progress toward the end goal. Milestones provide checkpoints for teams to use to measure progress, a potent motivator in its own right. And milestones help the team see see how their work contributes to the larger objectives.
Additionally, deciding on the order of tasks can give individuals a sense of autonomy over the overall project, further boosting their motivation. You may not have been able to choose your end goal, but teams can still look at their expected deliverables and create their own series of checkpoints or milestones that help them feel more in control of the project—and autonomy and control help create intrinsic motivation.
Celebrate Small Wins
The third way to motivate your team is to celebrate small wins. This involves acknowledging and appreciating the progress made by individuals and the team, no matter how small. Celebrating small wins helps to motivate the team and signify progress, fostering a positive work environment. And obviously, this method is difficult without establishing milestones in the previous method. Achieving those checkpoints is a perfect time to celebrate small wins.
But wins can be even smaller, like having a good day, completing a task, or receiving help from someone else. Celebrations can be done in various ways, in person over food or drinks, through a round of emails praising the win, or simply just acknowledging the achievement in a team meeting. The key is to make sure the team feels appreciated and valued.
Learn from Failures
The fourth way to motivate your team is to learn from failures. Failures are inevitable in any team or project. However, the way you handle these failures can greatly impact your team’s motivation. Instead of blaming others, it’s important to learn from these mistakes and use them as opportunities for growth.
Leaders and influential teammates can help extract lessons from failures and encourage transparency. This creates a psychologically safe environment where individuals feel supported and are more willing to take risks. This not only promotes learning and increases performance, but also fosters intrinsic motivation because learning—even learning through failures—helps people tap into a sense of growth and mastery, both of which are powerful triggers for intrinsic motivation.
Turn “Why” into “Who”
The final way to motivate your team is to turn the “why” into “who.” This involves focusing on the individuals or groups that benefit from the team’s work, instead of just relying on the organizational mission or vision statement to motivate for you. Leaders who create a sense of this “pro-social purpose” find themselves leading teams who are more motivated, but also more bonded. Pro-social motivation and purpose are key to intrinsic motivation, helping individuals see the impact of their work.
Knowing who is served by the work helps individuals and the team stay motivated. The specific “who” can vary for each team and individual, but the key is to make sure everyone understands the value and impact of their work.
By implementing these five strategies, leaders can create an environment where team members feel intrinsically motivated and can do their best work. Remember, motivation is not a one-time event, but a continuous process that requires ongoing effort and attention—a process that leads everyone to do their best work ever.
About the author
David Burkus is an organizational psychologist, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of five books on leadership and teamwork.