In your development as a leader, you’ve learned how to get motivated to work. Unless you’re running a company of one, you’ll eventually need to learn the ins and outs of team motivation, as well.

To achieve results and grow your business, you need to think beyond team building and focus on team effectiveness. Before you begin looking for ways to motivate your team, though, you need to take a quick reality check: if your team’s most core needs aren’t met, any efforts to motivate them will fall flat.

In Abraham Maslow’s 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation,” (pdf) Maslow laid out a hierarchy of needs. Human needs are arranged in a pyramid in this hierarchy, with basic psychological and safety requirements on the two base levels, psychological conditions such as love, self-esteem, and a sense of belonging in the middle, and self-fulfillment needs at the top. According to Maslow’s theory, only once all requirements are met on one level can a person begin to meet the demands on the next level.

What does this mean for leaders? For your team to give their focus and energy to psychological and self-fulfillment needs, their basic needs such as security, safety, nourishment, shelter, and rest need to be met. These may seem out of your control, but the reality is you control more of them than you may realize. In our society, meeting these basic human needs requires money.

If your team has a motivation problem, you should honestly assess whether it may not, at its root, be a compensation problem. Before you move on, ask yourself:

  • Are you compensating your team consistent with or better than other companies in the same industry and geographic area?
  • Are you setting a realistic example of work-life balance that allows your employees to have a fulfilling life uninterrupted outside of their working hours?

Even if your employees love what they do and are committed to your goals, compensation plays a role in their decision to stay. Some studies have revealed more than 25% of engaged employees would leave their current job if they received an offer with only a 5% pay increase, proving even start-ups and passion projects need to pay a competitive living wage if they hope to get the best out of their employees.

Once you’re confident your team has their basic needs covered and are in a place to be motivated to do more, follow these three tips to motivate them. 

1. Start With WHY 

Start with WHY. “Why” is a unifying principle. No matter the profiling matrix your organization uses, the ‘why’ principle is a common thread. At Leader’s Cut, we use Talent Dynamics, which identifies the four frequencies of what, who, when, and how. The unifier? WHY. When you communicate your why you’ll see more robust and consistent results from your team.

Why, you ask? People can better focus their efforts when they are aware of the desired outcome.

Consider Dale the Dollmaker, who is told here forth to change his doll-making process and turn every doll head three complete turns rather than his typical two. Dale has been making dolls for decades and has always found two turns of a doll’s head sufficient. Not only that, Dale reasons, but a third turn adds ten seconds to his doll-making process, adding up to fewer dolls per day. Having considered your request, Dale the Dollmaker dismisses it and continues giving doll heads two turns.

Dale doesn’t know you recently changed doll neck suppliers, nor does he know doll heads have been popping off his dolls willy-nilly ever since. The third turn Dale has declined would save dozens of doll heads from flying off at inopportune moments. If only someone with leadership training and an understanding of team development had been around to tell Dale why he needed to change his ways, dozens of doll-adoring children might have been spared the devastation of a decapitated doll.  

2. Tap into Their Talent and Trust Them to Succeed

At some point in your leadership training, you likely heard the proverb, “if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” Dr. Stephen M.R. Covey described this phenomenon of the team as “moving at the speed of trust.” When you move at the speed of trust, you rely on each person’s specific talent for the collective good.

In one workforce survey, 39% of employees reported feeling their input wasn’t appreciated at work. When individual team members understand their role in achieving company goals and feel trusted to use their skills, they are more enthusiastic and motivated to achieve them.

Career analyst Dan Pink came to similar conclusions in his analysis of motivation, identifying autonomy, mastery, and purpose as the three main things that motivate workers. “Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives. Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters. Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. “

3. Share the Vision

In her book “Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone,” social scientist and author Brené Brown explores the conflict between true belonging and “fitting in.” She found, while it’s easier than ever to find others we connect with over shared beliefs (or shared enemies), these connections are only surface deep. The genuine belonging people crave is not about fitting in—to fit in, we often need to mute or hide parts of ourselves. True belonging allows us to bring our authentic selves to a situation and often requires the courage to stand alone in our convictions.

When you share your vision with your team, you extend an invitation to be a part of something bigger—to belong. This offer is crucial for creating team dynamics that foster a sense of belonging. Your overarching vision is the cord that connects your why to the unique contribution of each team member—when you tie them together precisely right, they can serve as compelling motivation. 


At Leader’s Cut, we provide leadership coaching and team effectiveness training to help you get your team motivated at work while ensuring healthy team dynamics.

Are you wondering whether a leadership coach is right for you and your team? Contact me to schedule a free 15-minute “meet and greet” discussion so we can get to know each other and explore how Leader’s Cut can help you and your team achieve your goals!

Let’s Talk

Check Out More Articles From Our Blog

Skip to content