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Leading for Success: How to Motivate Your Team

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This blog is second in the series "Leading for Success."

Motivating a team might be compared to creating a sculpture. The artist is able to see beyond the raw material to the potential in the mass, and then carefully carve away extra material to realize a fine piece of art. To extend this analogy into what creates a high performing, motivated team, one must first understand the raw material:

• What is the chemistry of the team? As a unit, do they have the skills to succeed?
• How does the team respond to changes and stress?
• What are the needs of the individual team members for recognition?
• Do team members feel appreciated?
• Does the team feel supported by leadership?
• Is there the opportunity to have fun while working hard?
• Are all team members aligned with the goals of the department and company?

Once you have this "raw material" of information about your team, you can find the balance between meeting the needs of individuals and keeping team goals clear and achievable. I've learned over the years that keeping a team motivated involves all the following elements:

1. Make sure the team has clear, achievable goals and knows the linkage between their role and each goal.

2. Look for opportunities to celebrate success and hard work. Take the time to understand how each team member feels recognized -- some people like standing out in a group, while others want to be praised more privately. Then reinforce those things that the team and individuals are doing well and make sure that everyone understands how these contribute to collective success.

3. Pause every so often to look for ways to have fun. It can be as simple as having leadership cook breakfast for staff, or creating an opportunity to socialize outside of work hours. It's often this "down time" where camaraderie is built and allowed to strengthen organically.

4. Create some friendly competition. Teams love to compete for bragging rights or small rewards -- beverage or lunch gift cards go a long way in helping individuals feel appreciated and recognized!

5. Lead by example. Expect the team to follow your lead. Keep them informed of impending change and discuss shifting priorities openly.

6. Listen actively. If you're not getting the results you're looking for, ask questions and listen to what the team is saying. Everyone loves success, but not everyone wants to be led the same way. Listening to team needs can help you understand how to work with the team in order to reveal success.

Teams can struggle when any of the elements above are missing. Many teams will create a proxy leader within the team if they feel unsupported by leadership. If that person isn't aligned to the goals and the voice of the organization, it can be destructive to the chemistry and can leave the team frustrated and unfocused.

Instead of allowing this sort of dynamic to take over, invest the time to build individual relationships of trust and support with each member of the team. This is probably the single most important element of high performing teams. Pair this with clear goals and the opportunity to celebrate small successes, both individually and collectively, and it will almost always result in a motivated group.

As you put these elements into practice, you'll see the personality of the team emerge. Some teams are playful, some are serious, and there are those that really want a strong leader to guide them above all. Now that the team is assembled and motivated, we want to look at setting those success factors and then measuring results. Stay tuned! My next piece will focus on this critical area of performance management.

If you have any questions or would like to further discuss, please don't hesitate to contact me via email at pamlyra00@gmail.com -- happy to continue the conversation.

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Pam Lyra, Axcient VP of customer satisfaction and operations, has more than 20 years of experience motivating and leading teams.