How to Keep Your Team Motivated

When you motivate your employees to be the best they can be, they’ll do their best work. Here’s how to keep them engaged and excited, every day.

Written by Sunny Betz
Published on Jul. 23, 2021
How to Keep Your Team Motivated

When you’re trying to keep your employees motivated, the most powerful way to do so is help them find that drive within themselves. When Danielle Murcray, chief financial officer at Santa Clara-based cybersecurity company AttackIQ, onboarded Inga Skaf as the company’s new HR specialist, she learned this lesson firsthand. 

Skaf was interested in attending a course to get an HR certification, the cost of which the company fronted. Murcray then saw tenfold returns on that investment — she helped Skaf integrate her new skills and ideas into her work and the company. Skaf developed a strong sense of fulfillment at work and was motivated to push herself further, she said. 

“I have been able to set and achieve goals that have given me a lot more confidence, pride in my achievements and opened up new opportunities,” Skaf said. “Having my hard work acknowledged and appreciated while at the same time being pushed out of my comfort zone makes me even more motivated as an employee.”

How to Motivate Your Team

  • Schedule creative team outings
  • Celebrate wins and highlight impact
  • Schedule team-wide days off
  • Manage with empathy
  • Turn failure into fuel

Everyone is motivated by different values, so there isn’t a blanket solution if you find your team is uninspired. But if you create an environment where your employees are engaged and connected with a purpose, then they’ll be able to do their best work.

“I always strive to create a culture that respects the individual and encourages employees to better themselves, which can only better the company,” Murcray said.

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Measure Motivation Through Engagement

Quotas and growth statistics are a couple ways to measure success, but when it comes to gauging your team’s motivation? Numbers aren’t always useful. Instead, you’ll have to pay attention to more subtle cues to figure out how driven your team is. 

“I tell our managers to look for and reach out to employees who seem unengaged to understand what might be going on behind the scenes,” said Chris Rothstein, CEO and co-founder of Groove, a San Francisco-based sales engagement platform.

“One of the most important roles in being a manager is to determine what each direct report is motivated by.”

Some people are more reserved than others, but if you notice an employee is talking less and less during meetings, take it as a sign to check in. Actively look for changes in your team that indicate burnout or just a general loss of enthusiasm. Plus, make sure to ask your team what you can do to help them feel more fulfilled or rewarded through their work.

“One of the most important roles in being a manager is to determine what each direct report is motivated by,” said Murcray. “It could be monetary items, pursuing something they believe in, or regular recognition of their efforts.”

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Align Employee Growth With Company Growth

Appreciation goes a long way. People want to hear if they’re doing a good job and how their work is meaningful. It’s easy for managers and teams to get preoccupied with the work that’s right in front of them. But if you’re looking to help your team maintain long-term motivation and passion for their work, you’ll need to celebrate their contributions to the company.

Ashish Toshniwal, CEO and co-founder of Silicon Valley-based digital product design agency YML, said that helping his teams see the large-scale impact of their work has been key to the success of his company. 

“When we’re designing features and implementation for a huge healthcare provider, knowing that they deliver around five percent of all newborns in America is a huge motivator,” he said. People like to know that their work serves a bigger purpose, and reminded that they’re part of a larger endeavor.

“We’re not just building an app,” Toshniwal said. “We’re impacting people’s lives.”

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Be Transparent

Mission statements change. Goals get reworked. Strategies pivot. It’s the role of leadership to steer everyone in the right direction. Keep your team in the loop — selling them on a different direction can be tough. 

“Change can be very sudden and blindside people, so keeping employees from being surprised will help them stay excited about the overall vision,” said Toshniwal. “Big changes should be shared in real-time and be more collaborative.” 

“Great leaders push everyone to be an owner.”

Instead of restricting OKR conversations to a high level, regularly report new changes or initiatives to your team, whether through quarterly scrums or weekly emails. Welcome  questions and suggestions — the more you involve everyone in the process, the more they’ll feel like valued players and contributors.

“Great leaders push everyone to be an owner,” said Rothstein. “The highest-functioning teams have people that really own their respective areas.”

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Get Creative

Traditional motivators such as performance bonuses and raises are great, but they aren’t a fix-all solution. Generous compensation might keep people onboard, but a chronic lack of motivation can be caused by a lot of things that have nothing to do with money.

“Some people will be heavily motivated by the chance to increase their paycheck, but if an employee is experiencing other issues such as a lack of social interaction at work, a check may not solve the problem,” said Toshniwal.

When you promote a positive and supportive work environment, your team is more likely to forge strong connections with each other and push themselves further. 

“If an employee is experiencing other issues such as a lack of social interaction at work, a check may not solve the problem.”

Think outside the box and consider what activities might fit with your team’s interests. Go beyond the catered lunches and team drinks. Host team outings, like a trivia night, baseball game or virtual wine and cheese tasting, where everyone can bond outside the workplace. Set up regular, company-wide events, such as a motivational or educational speaker, so folks from different teams can connect too.

“Each new hire that comes into AttackIQ spends an hour with the CEO and me learning about our mission and vision,” said Murcray. “I also use Bonusly, an employee recognition and rewards software where I can provide points to my direct reports for going above and beyond that can be redeemed for gift cards.”

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Support Wellness

A balanced work life is essential. Stressed teams and overworked employees won’t have the capacity to keep grinding. Offer your entire team the same day or week off — requiring everyone to do a hard reset will help your whole team avoid burnout. But most of all, listen to your employees and be prepared to adapt your approach based on their concerns and needs.

“People should be happy at work,” said Eva Majercsik, chief people officer at San Francisco-based computer software company Genesys. “Always be empathetic and create an environment where your employees can thrive.”


Emphasize Improvement, Not Failure

Fixing a lack of motivation isn’t easy. Tight deadlines and big goals might put managers in panic mode. Don’t pass on your own personal fears and worries to your team. Issuing ultimatums and taking a strict approach will only cause more distress as you try to get your team back on track.  

Employees shouldn’t be constantly worried about getting fired if they fail to meet a deadline or make a mistake. Managers need to guide and support their team — clarifying what needs to change. Reprimanding an employee and leaving them to figure it out could result in bigger, longer lasting consequences. When employees feel mistreated by or resent their boss, turnover rates are likely to be much higher than those at companies with a higher emphasis on trust, according to research.

“Success isn’t built overnight — it’s stacked on top of a lot of failures and a lot of lessons learned.”

“I don’t think anyone can thrive under threats, because you need to trust the people that you work with,” said Majercsik. “It means there’s a big portion of your brain that is focused on being afraid, so you’re not working at your full capacity.”

Failure is a big part of any company. Help your employees learn from their mistakes and they’ll become better team players. Eventually, your employees won’t be afraid to fail and will use it as a learning tool instead.

“Success isn’t built overnight — it’s stacked on top of a lot of failures and a lot of lessons learned,” said Toshniwal. “You can keep people motivated by helping them learn, keeping them on track, keeping them knowing that failure is okay and that it’s even a path to success.”

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