Help Make Connections
People are motivated when they connect what they do to a sense of why they do it, at least one higher than needing to get a paycheck. The feeling of motivation isn't a passive sense of well-being or happiness. Rather, it's the byproduct of the active process of making those connections. A leader who motivates other members of the team helps them make those connections and complete their tasks with a sense of meaning.
We've finally reached the heart of the motivation dilemma. The motivation process is not a series of empty practices or a check-list of must-do activities. For now, roll up the posters, postpone the group meetings, and don't sign those little certificates of appreciation. You need to forget knee-jerk reactions and habits.
To really motivate, you have to understand the different ways of making connections to meaning. You must know how that differs in group and one-on-one settings. Motivation is also a process that must always continue because, for most people, that's where the payoff for effort lives.
Team Member Misunderstandings
The same misconceptions are common to leaders and the members of their teams. Too often, people have had bad previous experiences being “motivated.” They have misplaced expectations of what it means and what they can expect. Some people have also had the artificial high of getting pumped up, along with the crashing low that usually follows. This is particularly true of those who have spent time in sales organizations.
You will need to explain and demonstrate how your approach to motivation is different from what they've seen in the past. You aren't interested in a cheap thrill but rather in making the team experience meaningful. At first, many may think yours is yet another cornball exercise. Be patient and that skepticism will pass.
Expressions of Motivation
Remember that you're in the business of sales — trading real motivation for work done to get closer to a goal. However, it's tricky, because meaning is different for different people, and its manifestations will vary. Some people may have that cheerleader spirit while others might sit quietly and enjoy being creative in things they were already doing. For example, here are a few emotional responses that someone might have to true motivation:
The individuals on your team have their own psychological predilections and belief systems. Reasons to take on a goal that resonate with one will leave another cold. Some might feel meaning in the challenge of trying to do something difficult, while others could feel more strongly about their obligations to others on the team or to some greater community. Meaning is an intensely personal experience, and there is no single way to motivate others.
Help Others Connect
Because meaning is such a personal expression, you will need as many ways to motivate as there are people in your group or organization. Motivating specific people is an emotional activity that you must tailor to them. To do that well, you need to pay attention to your team members, understand what makes them tick, and get a sense of what draws and what repels them.
Although you're interested in helping connect your team in an emotional way to your goals, start with the goals they have in their lives. Learn about their interests, which will give you an indication of what is important to them. The greater a sense you have of that, the more you can look for parallels between the team's goals and areas in the person's life that might provide a point of meaning.
For example, say that two people have been working on equivalent tasks that the group had to complete for a goal, but both are starting to flag. It can, and does, happen to all of us. How are you going to motivate them? That depends on the person. One might get enormous joy out of creatively solving problems; you could try helping that person reframe her task as a problem that needed a novel solution to get past the sticking point. That would call up the person's natural interests, reinstating her work on the project, which would then get done and thus bring the team member even more satisfaction.
What you are going to do is learn about the people on your team, but in a human way, not as a simple data collection exercise. To that end, you needn't pry. The best approach is to take a real interest. If you want to listen, people want to talk.
The other member might feel overwhelmed because other deadlines are making completing the task more difficult. Then, depending on the group's overall needs, you might help the person reassess what is happening as well as restructure the demands on the person to make life more bearable. You make the situation something that can be won, and the team member will reflect the goodwill that ending the unnecessary conflict has delivered.