Motivating Your Team – What To Do (And What To Avoid)

By Ali Luke

October 8, 2009   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Are you ever in charge of other people? You might have a team under you at work, or you might have to motivate people in a less formal capacity: perhaps in a volunteering role or in a community or religious organization.

We all know how hard it can be to motivate ourselves – motivating other people, and inspiring them to work jointly towards a goal, can be even trickier. Here are some thoughts on how you might want to go about it. First, a couple of points to be cautious about:

  • The Carrot Is Always Better Than The Stick
    Some schools of thought – thankfully, ones which seem to be a bit outdated now – suggest that employers need to force their employees to work hard. This might be through constant checks, comprehensive rules, micro-management or all sorts of other time-consuming and ultimately unproductive methods.

No-one is motivated by being bullied, or by being treated like an idiot. These methods may work in the short-term, but they build up long-term resentment. Do you really want employees who work grudgingly, and who have no loyalty to you and your company?

The very essence of fear is negative and over time has diminishing effects as employees develop attitudes that lead to a decrease in quality, commitment, and productivity. (Evan Carmichael, How To Motivate Your Staff, Young Entrepreneur) 

  • Money May Not Be The Answer
    Most of us are motivated to some extent by financial reward – but hefty bonuses may not be the best answer. If you dole out a big bonus in 2009, people will expect the same in 2010 – and they’ll be disappointed if they don’t receive it.Schemes which involve commission, or performance-related pay, can have the side-effect of making people competitive to the point of deliberately undermining one another. They can also lead to employees cutting corners everywhere possible, to focus solely on meeting the conditions for an extra pay out. 

Instead of ruling with an iron fist – or dishing out wads of notes – try these ways of motivating your staff or volunteers:

    1. Say Thank You
      This is particularly important in a voluntary role, where there is no pay, but it’s also important in the workplace. Thank employees (or volunteers etc) for their contributions, on a regular basis. Make a particular point of thanking them for anything above and beyond the call of duty: perhaps one of your staff stayed late every night for a week to finish a project. Let them know that you noticed, and that you’re grateful. 
  • Bring A Team-Wide Gift
    An inexpensive gift for your team – such as a box of donuts, a selection of good chocolates, or a company lunch out – can be a great way to reward people and to make them feel appreciated. Unexpected gifts go a long way towards building a friendly and motivating office environment. 
  • Consider A Results-Only Work Environment
    You may have come across the term ROWE – Results-Only Work Environment. Some forward-looking companies are switching over to this work model, which asks employees to produce a certain amount of work (“results”) rather than asking them to work for a certain amount of time (the traditional 8-4 or 9-5, five days a week, model). 

An easy way to try something similar might be to tell your team that if a certain milestone is reached by Friday lunchtime, everyone can have the afternoon off. (You might be surprised how productive people can be!)

  • Share Your Vision
    It’s easy to feel isolated as a single employee or volunteer, separated from the big picture. Employees doing fairly routine tasks may not have much understanding of the role they’re playing within the company or team as a whole. Bring everyone together once in a while (ideally with some nice food or drink!) to share progress and explain how everyone’s actions are building to something greater. 

Employees often feel strong fulfillment from realizing that they’re actually making a difference. This realization often requires clear communication about organizational goals, employee progress toward those goals and celebration when the goals are met. (Carter McNamara, Basics About Employee Motivation, 

  • Talk To Your Team Members
    Make time to chat with your team members. Ask them about any concerns or problems that they have, and ask what would make their life easier. Often, quite simple, cheap things can be done that will really improve people’s day to day experience of work. If realistic changes are suggested, make an effort to put these into practice: this can generate a huge amount of goodwill. If you’re accommodating towards your team, they’re much more likely to go the extra mile for you.


Do you have to manage or motivate a team, whether at work, in school, or in a voluntary capacity? What tips would you add?

Written on 10/8/2009 by Ali Hale. Ali is a professional writer and blogger, and a part-time postgraduate student of creative writing. If you need a hand with any sort of written project, drop her a line ([email protected]) or check out her website at Aliventures. Photo Credit: Kumar Appaiah
Ali Luke

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