Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Does motivation weaken or strengthen a team?

Does motivation weaken or strengthen a team?

Leaders are constantly looking for effective ways to motivate their teams to remain engaged and inspired in the face of dealing with endless challenges and unplanned setbacks.  They now face a dilemma - will support and nurture accelerate team productivity, or is providing continual rewards and compliments making people less resilient and more reliant on external motivation to succeed?  Actually, leaders need to be diverse and agile in their approach, and not anchored in just one way, in order to motivate their teams.

In her book ‘Mindset’, Carol Dweck explores how support and self-belief influence effort and achievement.  Her research finds that when you focus and acknowledge a child's efforts more than their results, they are more likely to extend themselves and try to achieve more, than focusing on their results alone.

Integrating this principle of ‘acknowledging effort’ into teams would likely create a supportive and productive environment.  Making each person in a team feel valued and respected no doubt creates positive ripples into team dynamics, project management, and group cohesion.  

This principle is now being applied to address drug addiction.  The number of Australians using methamphetamines (crystal methamphetamine or ice) has tripled over the past five years according to the estimates of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.  A new study published in the Medical Journal of Australia shows there are 268,000 regular and dependent methamphetamine users in Australia. Just five years ago that number was about 90,000. 

A new scheme was announced at the Melbourne drug court that rewards drug users who test clean over a period of time, with incentives like football tickets, supermarket vouchers, etc.  GP David Outridge said the program has been very successful in the United States

However, when my 11 year old daughter read this article she was a little confused and asked me “Why are they giving rewards to people for doing things that everyone else does anyway?  Why are only the drug people getting football tickets?”.  

Fair question.

Opposition attorney-general, John Pesutto, slammed the program and said “People should abide by the law because it’s the right thing to do, not because there’s something in it for them.  If addicts who have broken the law need to be bribed with free footy tickets before they’ll comply with their drug treatment orders, they shouldn’t be on the program.” 

So this brings us back to my original question, ‘does support and nurture accelerate team productivity, or is providing continual rewards and compliments making people less resilient and more reliant on external motivation to succeed?’.

Many schools have extended their sports day ribbons of first, second, and third to also include ‘well done’, and ‘good effort’ ribbons so that everyone gets a prize.  Some junior sports have abandoned scoring so that no-one loses and everyone feels good at the end.  

The last time I checked, if you miss a mortgage payment, the bank doesn’t send you a letter of encouragement saying ‘that’s OK, keep trying’.   If you made a mistake on a project that added costs, lost a sale and missed your target, or didn’t complete an order by the deadline, the client doesn’t usually come to the office, give you a supportive cuddle and tell you ‘don’t worry, keep trying - that’s all that matters’.

Not everyone gets a trophy!

Simon Sinek, author of ‘Find Your Why’ and ‘Leaders Eat Last’, explains that parents who overly support and help their children don’t allow them to develop the grit and resilience to succeed in the real world.  The younger generations are not exposed to enough failure, so they have unrealistic expectations of life because they are overly rewarded for doing the things you should do anyway.  We are producing a generation of people who are not familiar with failure and not conditioned to bounce back fast.  

“It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” – Bill Gates

For teams to thrive under pressure, there needs to be a healthy balance between supporting effort and individuals stepping up and taking ownership to get it done.  

In life, no-one is there to be your cheer squad, but it’s sure nice when someone is.  External motivation should be used like a speedy customer service in a bank - it’s nice when it happens, but don’t rely on it to be there.

Leaders have to dance the line between encouraging their teams and challenging them.   Ultimately, teams perform better under pressure when leadership make them feel supported and they have individually developed the resilience to bounce back on their own merit.

Keep bouncing back!


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