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How to motivate your team as a leader: The ultimate guide
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How to motivate your team as a leader: The ultimate guide

Use these tips and actionable insights from a leadership expert to motivate your team to be more engaged and productive.

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When it comes to motivating your people, the stakes are high. You need to know how to read the room and speak to a range of personality types, unlike the CEO of jewelry behemoth, Ratners Group, Gerald Ratner, in 1991.  

When asked to deliver the keynote speech at the Institute of Directors conference in London, Ratner opened with the lines “People say, ‘How can you sell this for such a low price?.... I say, ‘because it's total crap.’”

Rather than motivating the assembled CEOs, Ratners’ comments caused a backlash: Sales plummeted, leading to shop closures, falling shares, and job losses—including Gerald Ratner himself.1

In this article, you’ll discover the differences between key types of motivation, hear from a leadership expert to glean actionable insights on how to motivate different personalities, and learn how you can make your team more engaged and productive—whatever motivates them. 

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Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

The most effective approach to motivating your employees will depend on a range of factors like personality types, individual needs and preferences, and the circumstances of the specific professional relationship or project. 

It might sound complex, but we can boil it down to two basic types of motivation—intrinsic and extrinsic. They aren’t mutually exclusive either, so you can blend them to help get the most out of your teams:

  • Intrinsic motivation comes from a person’s own desire to do well in a given task. The act of solving a problem or delivering good work will, itself, be a reward for the effort applied.
  • Extrinsic motivation is where you offer concrete rewards—like a pay raise, a shout-out, or swag—to encourage desired behaviors or results. 

Let’s take a look at what that looks like in practice by exploring the example of Sarah, who’s responsible for a marketing team and wants to boost motivation and productivity. 

Sarah recognizes that some of her team members are driven by the inherent satisfaction of creative problem-solving. To tap into their intrinsic motivation, she sets up an "Innovation Hour" every week. During this hour, team members are encouraged to work on a pet project of their choice, something beyond their usual tasks, that aligns with the team's goals. Sarah understands that this autonomy and the opportunity to explore their passions is intrinsically motivating for them. As a result, they feel more engaged and committed to their work, often bringing fresh ideas to the table during regular projects as well.

However, that approach doesn’t work for everyone and Sarah also knows that some team members are more motivated by tangible rewards. So she introduces a monthly "Star Performer" award. The winner receives a gift card, a personalized trophy, and a public recognition during team meetings. This external acknowledgment not only boosts the winner's confidence but also triggers healthy competition among the team members. Sarah strategically aligns the criteria for the award with the team's objectives, so the behaviors she wants to encourage are directly tied to the reward.

By combining both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, Sarah creates a dynamic motivational environment that appeals to a diverse range of personalities on her team. The team members driven by personal growth find fulfillment in self-initiated projects, while those who seek external validation feel valued through the recognition and rewards they receive. As a result of this combined approach, Sarah gets a more motivated, productive, and harmonious team that consistently exceeds her expectations.

To make sure you’re a Sarah and not a Gerald, read on to learn from our subject matter expert and our nine recommended strategies to motivate people below.

9 strategies to motivate people 

Some of the most important personality traits of effective leaders include empathy, confidence, and self-awareness—but successful team motivation takes more than great leadership. You also need awareness of the most effective strategies and how to implement them.

To learn about those strategies, we spoke with Tarah Keech, founder of Tarah Keech Coaching. See our recommendations and Tarah’s insights below.

1. Avoid making assumptions about people 

One of the first challenges you may face–particularly if you’re a new leader and haven’t managed many different personality types before–is when you instinctively feel resistance toward a person.

When this happens, it can have a lot more to do with your own experiences than the team member’s actual behavior. “We have a lifetime of experiences that we've built automatic responses for–like an encyclopedia,” explains Tarah. “Anytime you experience a heightened emotion, either positive or negative, be curious about why that reaction came up for you.”

Not only will this approach help you react in a more measured way, but it can also enhance your awareness of an individual’s needs and more effectively tap into what motivates them most.

Tarah advises: “Use [your reaction] as an opportunity to be curious, so you’re not making assumptions about different personalities. For example, maybe they feel inhibited and need additional encouragement.”

With that in mind, next time you find yourself experiencing an instinctive reaction to a team member, consider where that feeling comes from. Then, approach the team member with curiosity and try to challenge your assumptions.

When it comes to motivating them, you also need to check your assumptions at the door. Don't assume you know what motivates an individual or that everyone is motivated by the same things as you or other team members are. Take the time to uncover whether they’re motivated by intrinsic or extrinsic factors–or both–and provide appropriate tasks, challenges, and rewards.

2. Understand employee expectations and needs

With a more open-minded and less ego-centric approach to managing people, you’ll be better placed to understand individual needs. And, in certain circumstances, realizing what challenges a person is facing can have an almost instantaneously positive impact on their attitude at work.

For example, if an employee is struggling to meet deadlines because they’re dealing with personal matters–maybe they’re a parent whose child needs to be collected from school, which creates stress and time constraints–you can provide them with greater flexibility.

This goes deeper than letting an individual start early or stop late. With the right digital tools, you can give your most talented employees the freedom to work and collaborate on their own terms, interact concurrently despite working in different time zones, or work async.

In the case of a busy parent, this could make an immediate improvement to their working environment. Not only have you allowed them to choose a work schedule that gives them the chance to focus most, but thanks to the tools you provided, they could be more engaged and productive too.

Similarly, employees who are struggling with raising kids or a mortgage are more likely to respond to extrinsic motivation like a bonus or a raise. So understanding their circumstances goes a long way toward telling you what will motivate them.

Pro tip: Try a collaboration platform that’s designed to help teams do their best work. Switchboard’s always-open visual workspace provides your team with a productive work environment that facilitates intuitive, effective communication online—whether they’re working side-by-side or at different times of the day or week.
Switchboard design room
In Switchboard, your teams can independently access files, share notes, and use any web-based app within the platform. Source: Switchboard

3. Assign people to the right tasks 

Simply giving the right people the right job can make a big difference to their day-to-day performance. Often, this depends on the individual employee’s personality type as much as their professional background or skills.

For example, in a marketing team, one person might enjoy working with numbers, making them ideal for market trends analysis. Another might find numbers hard work, but has innately strong communication skills, making them perfect for customer research and project management.

By aligning your team members with tasks that suit their abilities, you can maximize the team's performance and enhance their job satisfaction.

Knowing whether they’re motivated by intrinsic or extrinsic factors will also come in handy here. For example, if you don’t have time to provide a lot of oversight on certain tasks, give them to competent employees who get satisfaction from a job well done. This means you can trust them to do a good job without much involvement from you.   

4. Strive for open, transparent communication 

A company culture of honesty and openness can make a meaningful, tangible difference to individuals and teams, especially during times of change. For example, if a leadership team is uncommunicative after some restructuring, downsizing, or a sudden strategic shift, it can quickly lead to stress, a lack of focus, and poor output.

Tarah described such a case, which she was able to witness up close in her role as a leadership consultant:

“A client of mine was a leader in a parent company during an acquisition and was feeling a lack of trust in the leadership team. We learned that [the lack of trust] was coming from a lack of clarity about what the plan was, and a lack of predictability about what would happen next with the team. It really was as simple as understanding what questions he needed to answer.”

Following Tarah’s advice, the client laid out exactly what doubts the team had, and sought answers to those specific questions.

Great leaders provide employees with a platform to safely communicate their concerns, give constructive feedback, and ask questions. By doing the same, you get the opportunity to inform and reassure your team on the matters that affect them the most.

This can also give your team a more positive attitude and a feeling of control over their situation. Rather than waiting and worrying, they get the opportunity to address their uncertainty and get the answers they need.

5. Hold regular check-ins and 1:1s 

Naturally, creating a healthy work environment, where people feel they can ask questions and share concerns, means speaking with your team on a regular basis. 

“One-on-ones are really powerful,” Tarah explained. “It can be really empowering for workers to go through their day knowing they can get a direct line to you for your feedback and advice—and to help them navigate the trickier circumstances.”

However, adding meetings to the agenda can itself be problematic—especially when people are busy trying to be efficient. So it’s helpful to keep your meetings short and focused.

“It doesn't have to be daily, it doesn't have to be laborious,” said Tarah. “In fact, if you find yourself dreading meetings, it's probably time to revise what you're trying to accomplish. So, make your one-on-ones and check-ins more purposeful. 

“I'm a big fan of stand-up meetings—even just 5, 10, 15-minute check-ins–depending on what you're working on, can be really powerful. That way, your team knows they have an audience with you.”

6. Include your team in the decision-making process

Tarah also spoke about the importance of giving people a say. By inviting your teams to make choices that impact their work and the company, they’ll feel more committed and engaged with your shared goals.

“I have a client whose academic institution went through some small-scale team consolidation, which included layoffs,” said Tarah. “She wanted a team that she'd recently acquired there to feel a sense of belonging, so she looked for an opportunity to get them more involved.”

Tarah’s client found that opportunity—even if it meant taking a different approach from normal: “Instead of going to her normal, solid colleague to work on some grant analysis, she went to her team first, to ask if they felt they could contribute.”

By empowering her team in this way, and by giving them the opportunity to decide for themselves what they worked on, the client helped their people feel much more engaged in their work.

“It may seem like a really small decision, but by prioritizing her team’s inclusion, it helped to build trust and open dialogues—so they felt like they could bring ideas to her, which intrinsically creates a sense of belonging,” said Tarah.

7. Show gratitude and recognition 

Positive feedback is a form of extrinsic motivation and one of the best ways a leader can motivate their team to work harder toward individual and team goals. If you praise an employee in front of the team, it gives them the validation they deserve and inspires the whole team to work hard to earn your praise, too. 

Praise is also a fun and engaging way for the team to communicate together. In fact, employees who feel recognized are four times more likely to be engaged in their work and 56% less likely to be looking for alternative job opportunities.2

One way to help managers and employees share praise for each other is to establish a process for it. For example, you could include sharing praise as a regular agenda item in your monthly all-hands meetings or designate a dedicated room to it in your virtual employee engagement platform.

8. Don’t shy away from conflicts

Proactively managing conflict in the workplace is essential to cultivating a positive and cohesive space for your teams to work together. One study found that conflict at work is common, according to a quarter (26%) of employees. 

On the other hand, avoiding conflict, or allowing it to fester, can quickly lead to disgruntled employees spreading a sense of dissatisfaction.

However, it’s important to be sensitive to the issues as you approach addressing conflict—trying to resolve a problem before you fully understand it might make things worse. 

That said, there’s a lot you can do to support your teams so conflict doesn’t occur in the first place, for example:

  • Create communicative environments for your teams so people feel comfortable exchanging and critiquing ideas
  • Support diversity and inclusion so your teams are open to and respectful of alternative viewpoints
  • Model positive behavior by encouraging feedback and being responsive to it
  • Recognize examples of employees positively managing disagreement

9. Give teams the tools they need to work together and do their jobs 

Empathetic leadership and a transparent working environment are both essential to motivating your teams. But all those efforts–including your regular one-on-ones, team recognition, and sensitive conflict management–will be undermined if your people don’t have the right digital tools to work with.

When your teams can work together in a single window where they can access all the resources they need, they’re productive, efficient, and motivated. With Switchboard, your teams can continue project work in real-time or async, communicate naturally, and keep all their files, docs, and apps in the same, permanent room. This facilitates positive team building and creates the conditions your teams need for successful collaboration. Having the right tools to do a good job is also highly intrinsically motivating for team members who take pride in their work and want to do the best possible job.

Switchboard project collaboration room
Use Switchboard to motivate your teams and increase productivity. Source: Switchboard

How to spot different personality types on your team

A better understanding of individual team members’ personalities can help you decide what kinds of motivational techniques will work best—and what won’t. Some personality indexes include:

1. The Big Five Personality Traits

Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, and Openness to Experience are regarded as the five main characteristics to make up our personalities.

2. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

The MBTI assessment determines your styles of decision-making, organization, information processing, and interaction to identify you as one of its 16 personality types. 

3. The Nine Enneagram Types

The Enneagram’s complex system is based on the idea that each person is born with one of nine dominant personality types, which determines how we learn, interact, and adapt to our environments.

By considering your teams in these terms, you could have more success in helping your employees increase their engagement and productivity. For example:

  • Introverts may be more productive as the result of intrinsic motivators, so they could be responsive to opportunities in professional development, and a focus on professional pride.
  • Extroverts respond well to social interactions, so publicly acknowledging their good work and creating a communicative working environment for them might be an effective motivator.
  • MBTI’s ‘Judging’ personalities enjoy highly organized working environments, so providing them with clear goals and specific benchmarks could stimulate a strong response.
  • The Enneagram system’s ‘Reformer’ is a rational perfectionist, so they could be motivated by tasks related to data gathering and analysis.

A motivated team is a productive team

Great leadership counts but it’s strategic choices that make the difference. By carefully employing thoughtful strategies that respond to the makeup of your teams, you can engage your employees, increase productivity, and improve retention.

With this in mind, you need to create a communicative and transparent workplace that supports different personality types and people’s needs. 

Listening and being responsive to your people via regular check-ins and one-on-ones will play an important role in this process, as will providing them with the right tools—which you can accommodate in a collaborative digital workspace like Switchboard.

With Switchboard’s multiplayer solution, your motivated teams have access to all your shared resources in silo-free, “always-open” rooms. That way, they can stay focused whatever the stakes.

Better collaboration makes more productive teams
Switchboard’s collaborative digital workspace brings your teams together so they can get more done. 
Learn more

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Better collaboration makes for more productive teams

Switchboard’s visual collaboration platform brings your teams together so they can get more done.