How to Inspire Motivation on Your Team

Quote by John Quincy Adams

What drives us to do what we do? From ancient philosophers to modern-day behavioral scientists, many people have sought answers to that question. What makes motivation tricky is that sometimes we know what’s driving us, but often, we don’t. For a leader, the implications are a big deal. How do you inspire motivation on your team if people don’t fully understand their own motivations? Many years ago, I had one of those ‘aha’ moments that gave me an insight into that question with the help of a friendly ghost named Harley.

Like most 1st graders, there were times when my daughter and her friends would do something a little (or a lot) outside of the rules. When asked by a teacher why, the answer was often, “We don’t know,” followed by, “We didn’t do it.” When pressed a little further about who did, the answer was often, “It was the Harley Ghost.” (the Harley Ghost was a friendly, frequent visitor at the primary school she attended). The conversation then turned to why the Harley Ghost shouldn’t have done that and what the consequences should be if it happened again. This friendly apparition was an ingenious invention by the teachers to help young children make behaviors that they often genuinely didn’t understand more conscious and “self-managed.” Equally impressive is how the teachers motivated children by keeping their approach human, simple, and balanced—a valuable lesson for any leader wanting to inspire motivation when people may or may not fully understand the underlying reasons for their own behavior.

Keep it Human

I love the John Quincy Adam quote, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” Because it wonderfully captures the human essence of motivation. Motivating people on your team is about helping people meet their basic needs, the ones that are the most intrinsic and closest to the heart. Those needs include wanting to find purpose in their work, having a desire to develop the skills to realize that purpose, and then being given the freedom to pursue our purpose. Meeting those very human needs is the key to inspiring motivation at work and to do that you want to keep it simple.

Keep it Simple

When you help people meet those universal needs, you enable them to do their best and be their best. It isn’t rocket science, but it is behavioral science. Focus on these three actions to inspire motivation and build trust with each person on your team:

  • Help each team member understand how their work makes a difference to the team and their own aspirations. That purpose is what gets us out of bed energized and believing that we are doing something worthwhile.
  • Invest in your people. Help them develop the competencies that give them the confidence that they can achieve their purpose and goals. Feeling confident is fundamental to our performance.
  • Give people the freedom to do their jobs and demonstrate their capabilities.

Keep it Balanced

You can quickly bring those three essential ingredients of motivation into your regular conversations with each team member. The key is keeping them in balance. Think of the three actions as representing the sides of an equilateral motivational triangle. A few years ago, I was working with a new manager, Michael. He was excited about his role and found great purpose in it. Michael was also on a steep learning curve and needed to develop several new skills to be successful. In the early days of his role, he often pushed back on my coaching and what he saw as hand-holding. When I demonstrated (by allowing him to make a few mistakes) that my goal wasn’t to micromanage but to help him successfully navigate his learning curve and then give him the full freedom to lead, Michael understood the importance of balance.

With a little practice, you’ll find the motivational triangle to be a useful framework for conversations with team members. Especially when those happen over a video call. Keeping people motivated and building trust when you’re limited to a few in-person meetings a year is a challenge. By regularly talking with people about their sense of purpose; making sure that they were getting the training and support to achieve that purpose; and that they felt that they had the freedom to pursue it, those conversations can be enjoyable and productive.

Inspiring Motivation on Your Team

Inspiring motivation and building trust are always vital. In a work world that always changing with many unknowns and anxieties, it is essential. When you help people find purpose and align it with the goals of your team and organization, invest in their skills to realize that purpose, and then give them the freedom to pursue it, you’ll unlock energy and foster higher engagement and improved performance. By keeping your approach human, simple, and balanced, your people won’t have to imagine a world in which they wake up looking forward to their work, have a great day working with great people and finish their day fulfilled. They’ll live it.



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About the Author

Dr. Jeb Hurley is a leading expert on team dynamics and building high-performance hybrid / remote teams. He guides leaders in understanding and influencing human behavior and creating trust and psychological safety. Jeb’s innovative, behavioral science-based approach to leadership development improves team performance and people’s wellbeing faster and at a lower cost. Learn more about Jeb’s work at Brainware Partners.