How to motivate your team in a volatile world

We live in an era where conditions are more likely to change rapidly than become stable over time. It does not come as a surprise when I say that we live in a volatile world.  

In this video, I discuss how you can motivate your team to thrive and survive in a volatile world. I explore the science behind motivation, discuss what mindset we need to respond to volatility and provide practical steps that business owners can take today to develop a highly motivated team that can thrive in a volatile world. 

What motivates people to do well? 

There are two types of motivation: extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsically motivated individuals will only perform tasks when there are external compensations, such as monetary rewards. On the other hand, intrinsically motivated individuals perform their tasks because they enjoy doing it. As a business owner, you would naturally want to work with and nurture intrinsically motivated employees in your organisation. 

Science says that three conditions must exist for intrinsically motivated individuals to thrive: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. 

– Autonomy. Allow employees to determine what, when, where, and how to deliver and perform, with the caveat that they must deliver and perform the work. Micromanagers are the natural enemies of intrinsically motivated employees. 

– Competence. Provide the employees what they need to succeed: clarity in their roles and goals that they need to achieve. They also need training support, whether it is upskilling or cross-skilling. Intrinsically motivated individuals work best when they know they have everything they need to do what is expected of them. 

– Relatedness. Intrinsically motivated employees need to feel that they belong to a group and that what they do contributes to the overall goals and objectives of the organisation. 

How do we respond to a volatile world? 

A 2018 study found that agility is the key to responding to volatility. Being agile means being able to move quickly. In the agile project management approach, teams can change quickly because they work in small increments and evaluate continuously, an approach that provides a natural mechanism for responding to changes quickly. 

Being agile is compatible with an innovation orientation, which means being open to new ideas and experimentation. A growth mindset also supports both the agile approach and innovation orientation. 

A Google study found that psychological safety is a key characteristic of high performing teams. With psychological safety, teams are more likely to conduct experiments, take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them without being seen as ignorant, incompetent, and disruptive. An environment conducive to experimentation and being open to ideas is an environment that is nurturing to innovation orientation, which, in turn, nurtures the growth mindset. It helps develop team members who are problem solvers and willing to pivot when the situation calls for it. It also develops a team’s agility. 

How do you motivate in a volatile world? 

The key to motivating your team is to provide them with 4 key things: autonomy, competence, relatedness, and psychological safety. Motivating people to respond to volatility entails nurturing their intrinsic motivation. People who love what they do are more likely to solve problems and find ways to respond to change.  

  • Give them autonomy. Allow them the freedom to work where they want and achieve their objectives however they see fit provided that they work within the boundaries and scope of the work required, are respectful of other people’s time and resources, and that they don’t violate any rules or laws.  

Micromanagement is the bane of autonomy. We demotivate teams we tell them what to do and how to do it.  

As the problems businesses face change, teams will have to adapt to these challenges by changing the way things were done in the past. If we expect team members to be agile and solve new problems, we can’t expect them to do so using old ways of thinking, and that includes expectations of how people should be working.  

  • Give them what they need to succeed. Many times, the difference between success and failure is confidence. When people feel that they have what they need to succeed in their tasks or work, they grow. Confidence comes from being empowered. Empowered people know what is expected of them. They understand their role, they know what goals they need to achieve, and they can perform their roles and achieve their goals. 
  • Make them feel that they belong. The most powerful thing that a leader can do is to create a shared vision for the entire team. People feel they belong when they know that what they do contributes to the team’s overall goals and vision.  
  • Nurture psychological safety by being open to ideas and by listening to team members. Allow team members to take risks and fail—but more importantly, place a value at learning from those mistakes.  



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