Team motivation (keeping your team onside when stuff gets hard)


A glass of bubbles in hand, a girlfriend and I sunk into our chairs comparing work horror stories. The time her former boss made her go in at 11pm because he ‘may or may not have left a sensitive document on his desk’ or the time I started work everyday at 5am for 3 weeks as we finalised some designs with someone in a different time zone from us, only to scrap the project entirely in the next 6 months before it went into production… 

The strange thing is that, whilst we complained, laughing almost exasperatedly at our own ability to get ourselves into such situations, it was with a sort of quiet acceptance that whilst these examples weren’t overly ideal, we were more than happy to pull the odd late night, or crazy working bee to get stuff across the line in our current roles - so what was the difference? Why are we happy to do that now, when we weren’t before? 

Our conversation it seems is a topical one for people in the startup/high growth/freelance/small team end of the business spectrum, who have to juggle concurrent projects or short deadlines amongst their small(ish) teams. With this in mind I went looking for some underlying themes that help keep your team motivated and happy, even when deadlines loom and crazy workloads abound. 

5 top tips for keeping your team motivated (and onside) when it is crazy busy

1: Keep your team in the loop
Think about it, how likely are you to throw yourself into any situation without understanding what is going on? Why do we then expect people in high growth businesses, startups or small business to pull long hours or really take ownership or drive projects if they have no real understanding of how this fits into the wider scope of the business? If you are scaling aggressively, keep your team updated. Giant project? Tell your team about it. Instead of cursory updates, share an outline of what is happening, how it will impact them and importantly how their work will impact on your greater goals. Your team will then know what’s happening, why what they do matters and feel included in the process. Easy. 

  Be sure to have open communication just like Lionel Richie. 

Be sure to have open communication just like Lionel Richie. 

2: Craft a strong team culture
Here at BizDojo we have a pretty strong team culture, and the importance of this is something we have touched on before. Team culture underpins how your team works, how they treat each other, how you celebrate success and the people you choose to join your team itself. Crafting a strong team culture will help ensure that people are on the same path, if not the same page while you build your business, project or idea. 

“research shows a strong company culture is the secret to more engaged, motivated teams”
— Weirdly (BizDojo Auckland @ GridAKL residents)

3: Lead don’t drive
“We always had so much to do, but he was never there” 
When we are asking our team to dig deep, we should acknowledge that we too are part of that team, and thus we should be there by our teams side leading from within. During a time of multiple deadlines or high workload it is best to accept that simply delegating and driving the work from above may not be the best solution. Being present, either by regular check-ins, or being physically there can be enough. Whilst others may prefer to take a more hands on approach to getting the work across the line.

This is a really key time to make sure that you have your team to management balance right. Recently at Startup Grind 2016, Dustin Moskovitz from Asana talked about what he feels team leadership should look like, smaller teams with accessible management that was supported by mentoring.  

4: Give a damn
If your team is working through their lunch break? Make them lunch. If your team is coming in early, have their coffee order waiting. Even better, show this level of care even when not under time pressure or deadlines. One of my favourite places to work was at a little business where the owner would arrive into the office with everyone’s coffee orders ready for team meeting, a small gesture that made everyone feel appreciated.  Gestures that show you are indeed human, and you care about your team go a long way, but can be easy to forget in the midst of shipping a project where they will also be most appreciated. 

  Be like Tyra, and root for your team. But maybe with less yelling.

Be like Tyra, and root for your team. But maybe with less yelling.

5: Recognise and celebrate awesomeness
It may be as simple as calling out someone’s awesome work on your slack channel, shouting your team lunch for getting stuff across the line or having a ‘team member of the month’ setup. Everyone likes to be told they are doing well, and that they are appreciated - so when your team makes you proud, tell em’! That said, there is an art to acknowledgement. Be sure to be specific about what your team or team members have done that is awesome, explain why you appreciated this and dwell in the ‘now’ of it all. You may be really excited about how this project can impact on 3 more in the future, but now is the time to be in the moment and celebrate small victories. 

  The kind of reward that the BizDojo team personally enjoy, check with your team as to what they actually like though. They might not be into this. 

The kind of reward that the BizDojo team personally enjoy, check with your team as to what they actually like though. They might not be into this. 

Anya wrangles Brand & Communications for GridAKL, you can follow her on twitter here