I realised creating a sense of belonging and value was the key to good teamwork

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How does the inexperienced, newly appointed manager, motivate a team? In my first managerial role, I was clueless. I’d seen and experienced the result of poor management practices with previous employers. What was I to do?

Back then my first goal was to get to know my team. So I spoke to them regularly, I listened; and I considered their comments carefully when reaching decisions.

It meant I didn’t always follow my initial instinct, I even made some mistakes, but with some trial and error I did lay the foundation of a strong relationship with my team. Indeed, very early on as a manager I realised that creating a sense of belonging and value was the key to good teamwork.

I was also lucky that my team members were each skilled at their jobs, bringing unique and often complementary characteristics to their roles. As my relationship with the team developed, my own confidence grew; and the team responded accordingly.

That step up to management was some time ago. I have since learnt that people are motivated by a range of factors, of which good relationships is just one. Suitable reward, control over what they do, appropriate tasks and a sense of purpose can all help to motivate and engage people at work.

For some people, achievement is reward enough to motivate them. For me though, recognition of that achievement is the reward. As a young employee, I was rarely praised for my good work. Indeed, managers were always quick to shout and criticise mistakes. Doing good was to be expected, and didn’t warrant comment. As a result, I didn’t warm to my managers. I didn’t like them and I didn’t trust them. I simply did what I needed to do, and nothing more….and then one day I left.

Paradoxically, it is this power and authority, the ability to impose one’s will on subordinates, that can also reward some individuals. This certainly motivated my own managers to behave as they did. But such threats, sanctions, and the expectation of good work failed with me. Indeed, as motivators themselves, they simply are not sustainable in the long term.

Of course, motivation also depends upon what you are doing. Who doesn’t, for example, put off those tasks they like the least? So having control on how your job is organised and performed; and having tasks that are sufficiently challenging and needed, can all boost motivation. Sadly, many people don’t have such freedom in their work. But a good manager will consult, listen, and strive to help an individual team member work smarter, providing them with the challenges, responsibility, training, resources and encouragement to perform to their best ability.

Running alongside these motivating factors is a sense of purpose. In many sectors, including health, education and charities, the sense of purpose can go to the very heart of what a person does. For some people just helping others, or having an affinity to the cause, is a strong motivator. The charity volunteer is a good example. But even in those roles where a sense of purpose is not obvious, a person’s role still has value. It is by recognising, and demonstrating this value, for example through feedback, appreciation and coaching, that a manager can help to motivate.

Clearly though, a group of different people will be motivated by a different balance of factors. What engages one team member will not work so well with another. For the manager, it is recognising these differences; and using them to good effect, that will bring results. So understanding your team, using all your interpersonal skills, listening to and consulting with them from the outset, is vital.

Remember too, a team is more than a set of individuals. To succeed a team needs to complement, compensate for, and trust each other. But motivating the team, like the individuals within, needs your full engagement. It really does comes down to communication: ask, listen and respond.

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