Team leadership: Motivate your team by being genuine

I’m having a problem motivating my team. How should I motivate them?

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Well, presumably, you're a team lead or manager. If you're a tester trying to motivate your teammates, I think that is fantastic. 

In either case, I’m not certain that there is a single thing that you can do to really motivate your team. By that, I mean that in my experience attempts at “team building exercises” or “bonding experiences” that are not genuinely felt, and welcomingly engaged in, typically don’t work. Frankly, no attempt that is not genuinely felt will motivate people. Likewise, I find most “awards” for outstanding performance typically don’t work either – they tend to de-motivate people as they often don’t ring true.

Perhaps that is the greatest thing you can do really motivate people: Be true. Flag waving “Follow Me Boys” works great in movies, and on occasion in some combat situations (but rarely in recent times). 

Lead by example. Greet people when you see them. Smile. Yeah, all that touchy-feely stuff that seems phony. The thing is, doing it, and meaning it, can do more than forced “team building” exercises or calling everyone “Buddy.”

Work hard to help your teammates when they can use it, and when they actually are willing to be helped. Forcing help, like anything else, is painfully de-motivating. Instead, let them know that you are willing to help if they want it. This includes not just with work stuff but other things – like picking up lunch for the team when there is a deadline looming. Or, bring in bagels or donuts or some other treats as a surprise.

From what I have seen, genuine appreciation of good work, support and empathy when people are feeling frustrated will do more than any canned or pre-meditated “motivational exercises.”


This was first published in November 2011

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