Five Underused Ways to Motivate Your Team

Girls Fastpitch Softball Team Inspirational HuddleHow can you lead your team to perform at their best and get great results?

Here are five important but often-neglected ways to motivate your team, drawing from inspiring examples outside standard corporate practices.

  1. Bring passion and energy.

Pete Carroll, coach of the Seattle Seahawks, is a great example of a leader who energizes his team. In addition to the energy and passion he brings himself, he continually exposes his team to passionate top performers from other arenas of life. He has invited violinists, psychology professors, rappers, coaches, golfers and generals, as well as Grammy and Nobel Prize winners, to educate and inspire his team.

As a leader, do you view your job as energizing your team?

  1. Help your team practice empathy to foster creativity and innovation.

I recently heard Neil Stevenson, Managing Director of the design firm IDEO, describe how their teams bring innovation to clients. One key component he mentioned is “practicing empathy.” Observing the end user or consumer in action and putting yourself in their shoes can spark simple and incremental changes to existing products to meet needs in new and helpful ways.

For example, watching kids brush their teeth helped an IDEO team realize kids wanted something more than a plain, boring, adult-style toothbrush. Kids want fun. This led IDEO to create a ‘fun’ toothbrush with a colorful play dough-like grip.

Team leaders don’t have to have all the ideas. And the ideas don’t necessarily need to be big or original. But leaders need to encourage their teams to listen, observe and step into the worlds of those they serve in order to provide them innovative and practical solutions.

  1. Encourage fun and humor.

Kids aren’t the only ones that want to have fun. Adult team members want fun, too. And it’s good for them and their organizations. In Extraordinary Groups: How Ordinary Teams Achieve Amazing Results, authors Gregory Bellman and Kathleen Ryan discuss research that reveals that “fun” is one of the top characteristics of an extraordinary team.

Robin Williams, playing the role of Patch Adams, wore clown noses, pulled pranks, cracked jokes and filled a pool with spaghetti to inspire his team and clients. Over the top for a team leader? Maybe.

But how about requiring your team members to come up with a creative, fun way to report status or present a recommendation? I know a leader in Mars Corporation who did something like this, and a team member chose to present a proposal as if he were the customer, including dressing the part. A senior leader in attendance reported later, “that presentation was great. It was the only thing I remember from all the meetings I had that week.”

Whether it’s injecting fun and humor into your team’s weekly meeting, scheduling an 80s movie watch and big hair night (I know a leader who did this), or cutting loose a fun team member to run with their own ideas, don’t underestimate the fun factor.

  1. Connect powerfully.

I recently read about a successful college basketball coach who worked out with his team members and occasionally wrestled with them. These gestures not only set a high bar for effort and performance, but they also helped him build strong trusting relationships. His team members knew he would get in the trenches with them and would do anything for them. He found the balance between being a leader and a friend, and his team would run through walls for him.

Are you leveraging the opportunity to build strong connections with your team? If not, you might not be getting their best.

  1. Keep an inspiring purpose and clear goals visible.

I know someone who leads a counseling center who is laser-focused on reminding her team they exist to serve the underserved. Another friend who leads a non-profit continually and creatively reminds people in his organization that they are striving to build a community of faith that goes into broken places with compassion and justice.

Your team’s purpose may not seem as noble. But if you can’t find ways to help people find some meaning and connection to a clear purpose, they will likely be rowing in different directions instead of towards a common goal. They will not be as motivated, and they will not achieve great results together.

The extra effort you spend – energizing your team, helping them practice empathy with customers, encouraging fun, building strong connections with them and clarifying and reminding them of your inspiring purpose – will be well worth it…for you, your team and those you serve.

Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults. In his work as a leadership consultant and executive coach, he helps leaders and their teams move forward with purposeful action towards results that matter. You can reach him at or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.