5 Ways to Keep Your Team Motivated When Things Get Tough

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Business isn’t always easy. We all go through rocky patches from time to time, whether we’re struggling to reach our sales targets or whether morale is at a low due to a high profile departure or rumors spreading over cigarette breaks and around the water cooler.

The best leaders are the ones who know that occasional dips in motivation are irrelevant. Instead of trying to sweep the issue beneath the carpet, they do what they can to keep an eye on their team’s performance so they can step in and do something about it if their enthusiasm – and their performance – starts to dip.

There are as many different ways to motivate your team as there are ways to hire new employees and to nurture internal talent. Motivation isn’t just a one-off thing – it’s something that you have to nurture over time, especially when you’re in charge of a team. It’s no longer enough just to motivate yourself – you have to motivate everyone else as well.

Here are five ways to motivate a team when the going gets tough.

1. Lead by example

One of the best things you can do to inspire motivation is to lead by example. Do everything you can to stay motivated yourself and get your team so pumped up that it’s infectious. If you’re constantly nagging employees to up their game but you’re showing no sign of doing the same then they’ll start to wonder why they should bother.

This doesn’t mean you have to pretend to be someone you’re not, though. Just let your natural enthusiasm shine through and watch it spread.

2. Offer incentives

Offering incentives can work wonders if you’re trying to boost employee motivation. It’s true that it can be overdone – and that you don’t want your employees only putting effort in when they’re expecting a reward – but at the same time, the whole ‘carrot and stick’ approach can work wonders.

In the spirit of full transparency, you can even create a leader board that shows the top performing staff based on a set of different KPIs. For example, sales teams could track revenue, marketing teams could track the number of leads generated and customer service teams could track the number of queries dealt with. The best employees – or the best teams – in each area can then be rewarded for the hard work that they put in.

3. Rejuvenate the sappers

In his appropriately titled book Winning!, former England Rugby manager Sir Clive Woodward talks about the army philosophy that he adopted to build a world class team. He knew that no individual player is bigger than the team, so he started to sort his players based upon the energy that they brought to the table instead of their individual performance.

Sappers are the people who take energy away by constantly complaining and adopting a negative attitude. Energizers are the opposite, bringing energy and enthusiasm to the team and helping to glue it together. Woodward’s team won the world cup because he cut the sappers and built a squad full of energizers, and the same can be done in a business environment. Don’t flat out fire them, though. Give them a chance to change their attitude and offer guidance and support to help them to do it.

4. Create opportunities

Go out of your way to create opportunities for employees to develop themselves. This includes offering training and clear personal development goals, as well as encouraging subject matter specialists to speak at conferences or to contribute to ebooks and webinars.

Remember that personal branding is becoming increasingly important, so encourage employees to blog, to participate in discussions or to appear in videos. They should feel trusted enough to have an opinion on current developments in the industry and empowered to take part in the wider conversation. It’s much easier to feel motivated when you believe you have an active role to play in something bigger than yourself – and bigger than the company.

5. Focus on culture and atmosphere

A strong company culture makes a huge amount of difference across the board. It can improve employee retention and boost profits, and it can also increase motivation and overall productivity. But creating a strong company culture isn’t easy.

One place to start when it comes to motivation is the environment that you work in. If your employees are surrounded by uninspiring grey walls or working in isolated cubicles, is it any wonder that they’re feeling unmotivated? Instead, decorate the office in warm colors and consider investing in goodies like a coffee machine, a decent set of speakers and maybe even a games table if your budget allows it. Encourage employees to bring in personal artifacts and decorations of their own, too. They’ll feel more motivated if they work in an environment that feels both welcoming and homely.


Leading a team isn’t easy, and the managers who are the best at what they do are the ones who take the time to listen to their team and to take action when it’s needed. Perhaps one of the most impactful decisions you can make as a manager is the decision to go out of your way to listen to employees and to come up with ways to solve their problems.

Remember as well that loyalty leads to motivation and motivation leads to productivity. If you can inspire loyalty in your team then they’ll reward you by working their socks off and walking through fire to get things done.

Finally, don’t blame your employees if they’re unmotivated. In 95% of cases, what initially looks like a lack of motivation turns out to be a fixable problem. Perhaps they’re struggling with a particular project, not enjoying a certain aspect of their work or having problems at home. Regardless, it’s your job as a manager to pick up on it and to offer it support.

Developing motivation requires something more than just a poster with a catchy quote on it. It takes time and commitment on your part, as well as on the part of your employees. The only question is whether you’re prepared to invest that time in exchange for the rewards on offer.