04 Jan 2018


Rarely does a manager need to re-motivate a team that is flying high or on a winning streak. More likely it’s on a downward spiral and expectations will be on you to turn things around. Relighting the fire in everyone’s belly will be your first challenge.

Words: Jeremy Snape

A team’s mental state has such an impact on its performance that when the chips are down it’s very difficult to return to business as usual. One of the first jobs for a new manager, therefore, is to find a way to reverse this spiral of negativity and inject some much-needed mojo back into the team. While the motivation of the individual needs to come from within, there are things you can do to help them relight the spark.


This process should begin before you even start in the job, as you look for clues about the team’s state of motivation and how you might use that to bring about success. By reconnecting with a trusted former manager, a colleague that you met in a previous role or others who have the inside track, you’ll start to build a picture of the individuals, leaders and team culture at the organisation. Most importantly, you’ll have some insight into what might be blocking it from delivering its potential.

There can be many reasons why team motivation is waning, some more obvious than others, and some, such as fear, may only be detectable once you’re inside the organisation. When Baroness Sue Campbell took over as chair of UK Sport she asked her staff three questions: what do you do, what could you do, and what stops you doing it? These questions gave her all the information she needed about the roles people had been briefed with, what their ambition was and whether they were making excuses or finding ways to be their best. It’s a useful framework for finding the clues you need to create your blueprint for motivation.

The things that motivate us can be either push factors, things we are driven to avoid, or pull factors, the rewards for our effort. Making an impact early on is all about balancing the push and pull. The push in this case will be what may happen if things continue as they are, while the pull motivators will be the potential outcomes if everyone gets behind your ideas.


These outcomes must be tangible, realistic and clearly communicated, but remember that we are all motivated by different levels of detail, so while some of your team members will relish having detailed plans, others may prefer just an outline of the objectives coupled with clear instruction. It is important, though, to break your objectives down into smaller steps, setting short-term goals for each week so that individuals can see their progress and gain confidence.

For example, If you map out the process, define exactly what you need from each person and everyone commits to that, you will be doing everything in your power to reach your desired outcome.

Getting everyone motivated by the pull factors is also helped considerably if you are able to pull off some early wins, as it enables everyone to see that the rewards were indeed within reach. It’s important also that you paint a vivid picture of what success looks like and how it will feel to get there. That might mean recalling the organisation’s past successes or heritage, contrasting the colourful stories from its history with the current state of affairs. Create a hunger to change and a desire to look forward rather than mulling over the past.

Whatever has happened up until now, the team needs to be able to put it all behind them and see your arrival as a fresh start. You can even help to enhance this idea by making physical changes to their working environment, perhaps rejigging the working space or adding fresh touches that will make things feel different and new in a subtle way. Find ways to turn the page on a new chapter.


Another way to drive team motivation is to raise the intensity levels and urgency of what you’re asking of them so that they’re working hard as a group. When people make sacrifices together for a common goal the impact tends to be immediate.

Hopefully, after a short period of time your team members’ confidence and belief in each other will have grown, helped by being judged and rewarded on their work rate and effort rather than solely on the results. At this point it’s important that you notice the change and praise them for starting the turnaround. Ultimately, the individual’s motivation must come from within, but you can help them by balancing challenge and support, removing fear and creating an environment where they can once again feel excited about excelling in their role.