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My secrets to boost your motivation (and your team’s one)

Hello everyone, today I am going to talk to you about motivation.

You may have noticed there are several types of people around you: those who are always motivated, who always find a new way to stay boosted, despite the ups and downs, and those who struggle and end up scrolling on social media or in front of their TV because they can’t figure out how to get back on track.

I wanted to investigate to understand why it is like this and what makes us stay motivated in the long term. And I realized that the reasons why we remain motivated in the long term are actually counterintuitive.

Would you like to know more? Let’s go!

Your motivation comes from within

The two types of motivation

When I talk about motivation, there are two types:

  • there is extrinsic motivation, which comes from external factors. We think of rewards, such as a bonus for example, or punishments, such as repercussions for failure, whether they are direct or indirect. This motivation can work for a while, but studies, notably by Edward Deci and his colleagues, have shown that it does not last long.
  • and then there is intrinsic motivation. This motivation comes from ourselves and we fuel it through the pleasure and interest that we find in the activity itself. This motivation is the most effective for us.

For example, if I decide that I’m getting back into sports because it’s something that makes me feel good and in addition I take care of my health by doing it, I will have a better chance of staying motivated in the long term, rather than if I focus on the numbers on my scale, or the gaze of others (which is, by the way, perfectly subjective).

So, why does this intrinsic motivation work better?

Why intrinsic motivation works better

Well, because intrinsic motivation is very important in learning: when we are interested in something, we learn much more easily, we are more curious and we try more to understand and experiment. In classrooms, students who are intrinsically motivated are more involved and have a better chance of succeeding.

In the company, it’s the same: when we manage to interest people and engage them on a vision, they will be more inclined to motivate themselves in this way.

Researchers have sought to understand the factors that allow this intrinsic motivation to flourish. And this self-determination theory teaches us that we are more likely to self-motivate in a situation where we feel autonomous, competent, and supported.

How to discover your true source of motivation

But first: what is motivation?

It is a mechanism that will push you to action, in the more or less long term, somewhat like a trigger, a reason that will make you move.

For example, summer is approaching, you haven’t done much sports for a few months, you think it would be good for the summer and showing off on the beach. Your motivation? People’s gaze, or feeling good in your skin, or staying healthy.

There are several ways to motivate yourself. But some are more effective than others.

The power of autonomy in motivation

Researchers have been particularly interested in the motivation of people who need to take medication. In the United States, for example, less than 50% of people correctly take the medication prescribed to them. This study showed that when the doctor empowered the patient in taking medication, for instance, by allowing them to decide when to take it during their day, patients adhered to their prescription better.

Conversely, if the doctor seemed overly controlling, the patients had poorer results.

The first driver of motivation is therefore to seek autonomy in what you do: to what extent do you feel free to choose how you will go about achieving your goal?

And with your leadership hat on: how much autonomy do you give to your teams on how to do things?

Empowering gives mastery of what is being done and forces one to seek internal means, which enhances motivation (I’ll talk more about this later).

To continue with the example of getting back to sports before summer: if I have enough latitude to choose when and where to do physical activity, if I choose a gym that has several time slots for the activity I want to do, I would be more inclined to take action.

The sense of mastery in your job as a driving force

A second motivation factor is having a sense of competence in what we do. Do I have a command of my job, my actions? Do I know enough to meet this challenge?

The idea is to make sure you have a framework that allows you to take action confidently: the challenge should be achievable, even if it presents a challenge: either you have the resources, time to learn, or you already master the necessary techniques, or you are supported in the right to make mistakes.

I see this sense of competence as a certain joy in doing things because I know that I’m in control of what’s happening or – at the very least – that I have what it takes to overcome any obstacles that may arise.

In getting back to my physical activity, if I go to a gym, I know that I will have the support of coaches to help me make the right moves and prepare a recovery plan. I know that if I can’t make certain moves during a group class, I’ll know how to manage the gaze of others, and it will allow me to persevere to learn better.

Feeling supported

The third motivation factor: feeling supported and appreciated. We talk about a sense of belonging in agile teams, and indeed, it is a lever that will allow us to feel supported enough to stay motivated in the long term.

As an agile leader or manager, it’s important to appreciate your colleagues in a way that they feel this support. And not everyone has the same needs and expectations. It might be relevant to spend time with them to understand them better. The coach-leader posture can be very useful in this context.

Show them that you genuinely care about them, not just out of politeness or duty, because it’s written in leadership books.

Implement actions that allow the team to norm and perform, so that team members also help and support each other.

Methods to create a conducive environment for self-motivation

How to develop autonomy

As Simon Sinek suggests, it is important to start with the ‘why’: if your team understands why it is there and how it contributes to the company’s mission, they will be more likely to move forward. An Agile leader should also be able to explain the ‘what’: what needs to be done, which should be aligned with the rest of the teams. Once the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ are identified and understood, the Agile leader must put in place the necessary framework for the team to self-organize on the ‘how’.

This requires letting go on the part of the Agile leader, who must trust the team. This trust comes in exchange for transparency. In order to move forward and learn together, the data must be visible, otherwise, there can be no progress.

If the team is not used to autonomy, you will need to – as a leader – take a coaching posture to guide them through this process. Ask questions rather than advise or provide solutions.

How to develop a sense of competence

To support your teams in developing a sense of competence, you can position yourself as a servant leader and provide them with a framework that allows them to meet challenges. Roll up your sleeves and find ways to give them the means to learn: pair programming, peer review, dedicated slots for learning new skills, retrospectives, and action plans.

You can also use a tool like a skills matrix to know where everyone is in relation to the necessary skills for your team’s practice, and work on development and support plans.

How to create support

I talked about it earlier: feeling supported is the third and final element to put into practice for your team’s internal motivation to develop.

Spend time with them, “in the field”, to better understand what they are facing. Get your hands dirty when there are emergencies, to show yourself on their side and if you have useful skills to solve the problem. Develop your active listening: be curious and seek to understand rather than respond or judge. Use icebreaker activities to get to know each other better. Hold true commitments when they ask for help: if they see that you are not supporting them, trust will quickly erode and it will be difficult to put back in place. If you cannot act, explain why and what you have in your power to still move things forward. There you have it, you now know more about the different types of motivation and how to create an environment conducive to sustainable motivation – whether for you, personally, as a leader, or for your teams.

While external motivation factors are very common in companies, that does not mean they are the most effective in the long term. And even if setting up a framework for self-motivation seems far off, nothing beats practice and experimentation to find out what suits best and to start implementing, even small things.

Ask yourself what resonates most with you from what I have proposed today and what you would like to test right now. Take care!

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