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What research tells us about team motivation









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Your people may have all the expertise in the world but, if they're not motivated, it's unlikely that they'll achieve their true potential.

Motivated people have a positive outlook, they're excited about what they're doing and they know that they're investing their time in something that's truly worthwhile. In short, motivated people enjoy their jobs and perform well.

It is, therefore, no surprise that there are countless blogs, articles, scientific papers and podcasts that all attempt to address this topic with much, but varied, success. 

Everything from “setting small, easily-measurable goals” to “having fun” and “staying fuelled” are suggested as worthy advances in improving individuals’ motivation. These may well bring success on an individual level, but it is important to note that a critical element of motivation and performance centres around the team itself.

As was proposed by psychologist Albert Bandura in his later papers on social cognitive theory and found and replicated in many academic studies since, group confidence (or group potency) is considered to be one of the key components of team motivation. This in turn improves team effort and is a major predictor of team performance.

So, if we improve the group’s confidence in themselves, then we can improve the overall motivation and performance of the team. 

Brilliant, it makes perfect sense, but how can we easily do that?

Well, an interesting recent study by Canadian psychologists Caroline Aubé, Vincent Rousseau and Sébastien Tremblay, looking into teams and motivation may have provided a clue.

They collected data from 101 teams in a Canadian public safety organisation and sought to analyse the effect on individuals and teams of knowing that fellow employees share an understanding of the work that needs to be accomplished. 

Put plainly, they looked to find out if you knowing that everyone is on the ‘same page’ makes a difference to your work motivation and performance. 

Perhaps not suprisingly, what they found is that a team is more effective when employees have a shared and agreed understanding of the work that needs to be accomplished. 

Being aware that they share the same vision for the work that needs doing appears to have a motivating and stimulating effect on team members. They are then more likely to believe in the potential of their team and exert more effort in achieving the team goals. This gives them the confidence needed to succeed and encourages them to provide the necessary effort.

In contrast, lacking a perception of a shared awareness of group goals and techniques can be frustrating, demobilising and inefficient. Leading to team members to doubt their ability to align their efforts and to achieve success. 

With that being said, it is not purely about the amount of effort put in by the team. The research suggests there are other factors to consider. The study suggests that a willingness to help others and engage in extra-role behaviours also play a key role in instigating positive work mentality and behaviours. 

Importantly,  the study suggests that overall team effort is more important for tasks where the goals and the activities being completed are more routine. For less routine tasks, other factors such as flexibility and creativity are better indicators for success. 

However, regardless of the routineness of the tasks, perceived group understanding of the work that needs doing was a strong indicator of team performance. 

The EBW View:

This recent research from Canada strongly indicates that when employees perceive their colleagues all to be on the ‘same page’, they then believe more fully in the capability of their team. This leads to greater effort, helpful co-worker behaviours, and, in turn, to a better team performance. 

Here are 3 ways you will improve your team motivation and performance:

  1. Ensure employees have an appropriate understanding of their colleagues’ roles in each task.
    As indicated by the research, understanding each other’s roles, and knowing that the team all know each other’s roles, will lead to a greater belief in the team’s capabilities. This positivity in itself will breed success.

  2. Enable communication, don’t force it.
    Providing an environment where colleagues can discuss challenges freely can only help your team's sense of ‘togetherness’ and possibilities for success. With that being said, not all employees thrive on constant interactions with others. Allowing people time to quietly ponder their work challenges without gathering to highlight every possible idea may often be a more efficient route to a solution.  

  3. Understand the personality of your team.
    Managing work behaviours to maximise productivity requires leadership that changes depending on the individuals in the team. Leaders who run successful teams are able to understand the individuals in the team and use that knowledge to intrinsically and extrinsically motivate individuals. Take time to understand your team and change your leadership to suit the team not vice versa. 

If you want to improve team performance, read how you can use the EBW team assessment and team tools to build on the research in this article and empower teams to take personal responsibility for the critical emotions and behaviours that impact on their performance. 

Aubé, C., Rousseau, V. and Tremblay, S., 2015. Perceived shared understanding in teams: The motivational effect of being ‘on the same page’. British Journal of Psychology, 106(3), pp.468-486.


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