Written by Cora Lynn Heimer Rathbone
How do we tap into employee motivation to encourage teamwork? How do we leverage employee motivation to encourage individuals to put the good of the whole above what they see as good for themselves individually? How do we motivate high achievers to adopt a spirit of teamwork and engage wholeheartedly to build high performing teams?
Some years ago, at the end of three intensive strategy days with the board of an engineering business, the CEO approached me and said: “I haven’t got it yet.” “What’s that?” I asked, feeling unnerved. “I haven’t got the formula. ” he replied. “What formula?” I asked. “The formula for how you get people to put the interests of the organisation above their own.” Before I could draw breath he continued. “I am a scientist. I know that if I join one molecule of oxygen and two of hydrogen I get water.
What is the formula for getting people more excited about what we can do together than what they can achieve by themselves?”
My answer felt inadequate: “People are not molecules. As my late father once said to me, ‘each person is a world and it takes an eternity to get to know them’. There is no formula.”
Several days ago, a distracted young and enthusiastic ‘barista’ was serving me a latte at one of the high-street’s chains. He turned around to an older, very pleasant, more mature colleague who had casually used the ‘I’ word and said, “Can we hear more ‘team’ than ‘I’ around here? There is no ‘I’ in ‘team’…” I couldn’t help eye-balling him and saying “But there are two ‘i’s in organisation.”
My answer to the CEO still holds – there are no formulas. And my repost to the ‘barista’ also holds – as important as teamwork is, don’t undermine the value of individual contributions in strong organisations. So what principles bring strong individual contribution together with high performing teamwork, principles that when rolled together motivate people to give their best AND to put the good of the whole above that which is in their own individual interest?
Drawing from experience across a spectrum of business, here are 5 starting principles for leveraging employee motivation to drive strong teamwork:
- Establish clear purpose and shared meaning, which ensures that all know what they are collectively striving to achieve; to ensure that all know that the collective result is significantly more than any one of them can achieve alone; to help all realise that in achieving that team purpose they will individually share in much greater glory and gain than they could individually attain.
- Agree clear ambitious goals, that all in the team have helped develop and signed up to deliver; collective goals that require the joined-up working of the individuals in the team; individual goals that cannot be achieved unless individuals work collaboratively with other team members.
- Define clear and diverse roles, where the overlap between the value that each individual brings is enough to help them connect and trust each other but not so great to result in much duplication; where the difference between individuals makes each individual a source of growth to their colleagues.
- Communicate clearly, frequently and regularly, to support individuals as they work through the increasing ambiguity of today’s working environment, even if the communication is ‘I don’t know any more than you do’. Such openness reduces ‘jungle drums’, ‘inside circles’ and preserves trust.
- Review progress in a transparent and fair manner, balanced to preserve perspective and commitment, open and objective to reinforce trust, specific to drill-down to action, timely to ensure sufficient time to address performance issues, drilling down to ensure clear accountabilities and follow-up action.