Motivational dynamics: the hidden factor behind many team and individual challenges

Brigitte Lipschutz | Founder, Coach and Scientific Advisor @ Team Engager 11/06/2022 Leadership, Management

Picture: Leadership Summer Camp (2019) | Solvay Lifelong Learning

Read this article in French.

Spending most of my days listening to leaders and teams tell me about their biggest challenges and reflecting on how to solve them, I’ve come to realise two things:

  1. Clarifying and making use of the motivational dynamics at play is very often a powerful way to solve many of these challenges. 
  2. This isn’t something that comes naturally to people, even to very experienced and emotionally savvy leaders. Having the right tools and a framework to think about it makes reaching a solution easier.

While (almost!) everyone is aware that people are different and most seasoned professionals have some training in different personality styles (e.g.  the big five, MBTI, DISC, Insights etc.), what is less obvious is our different motivational styles: what gets one person energised and going isn’t the same for another. Knowing this is important as what energises a person (what we call their motivational focus) impacts:

  • What they pay attention to
  • What they perceive
  • How they act

Some perceptive leaders may sense some of these differences and act accordingly. However, when people use a good framework to map out their team, things suddenly become clearer and it gets easier to find solutions.

Let me illustrate what I mean with a few examples.

1. Aligning the team around a new strategy

An executive team needed to define a long-term strategy and align short-term priorities accordingly. The team was composed of very strong personalities, each of whom passionately argued their vision. As the CEO wanted to get the team aligned and no-one would budge, they were stuck.

Looking at the different motivational profiles in the team, it was obvious they were at different ends of the map. When taking their respective positions on the motivational focus map into account, the logic behind their arguments made more sense to everyone. Moreover, it allowed the executives to realise that being energised by some things often means focusing less on others. In other words, everyone has blind spots and that often their colleagues’ arguments fell right into their blind spot, hence their challenge to align.

Enriched with this new understanding, it became easier for everyone to see the value of the different perspectives, how they could compliment each other, and the trade-offs that had to be made to align. Everyone felt they had been heard and considered and they reached a decision that got everyone’s buy-in.

2. Shining a light on the blind spot

Interestingly, I often must do the opposite exercise as well. When teams are very homogeneous in terms of motivational focus, or simply when the leader is deciding on his or her own, it is important to challenge leaders or teams to look at their blind spot(s):

  • What does it mean for the team when nobody has a particular motivational focus?
  • What kind of priorities get dropped?
  • What kind of tasks are not done or done less well?
  • How would things change if a different motivational focus was used?

3. Dealing with tensions during a transformation programme

One team I worked with was feeling the burden of dealing with a big transformation programme while continuing with business as usual. The CEO who initiated the transformation felt supported by a few of his managers but had the impression others were working against him.

The motivational focus map reflected this situation clearly, with two separate groups on the map.

Rich conversations ensued. There was no blaming or criticism, just loads of insight:

  • Aha… so when you do this, it is because you are focused on…
  • Because that’s what gets you energised…
  • For me, it’s really different…
  • This completely drains me from all energy… 
  • Would this be a solution that works for both of us…?

The CEO understood his managers weren’t acting against him, but simply trying to get things done under fire. The managers understood how they could get things done without creating roadblocks for the transformation.

Today, tense situations still happen, but they are solved much faster as everyone has a better understanding of each other’s motivational focus.

4. When you can’t get some people on the team to move

At some point, every leader I’ve ever coached eventually ends up telling me about that difficult person they just can’t seem to get.

Often, framing things in terms of motivational focus will help the leader get a better understanding of the situation and some potential solutions to try out.

5. When you procrastinate

Let me tell you a secret: even the most accomplished people procrastinate.

Sure, some people look like they are on top of everything, both professionally and personally. Nevertheless, when you get to know them better, as a coach would, you realise everyone has something they would really like to do but never get to.

When that conversation comes up, I help the person clarify their motivational focus. We discuss how this helps them do certain things, but also makes it more challenging to do others, and find practical strategies for dealing with this.

Learn how to motivate your team and much more!

I invite you to discover the full programme of the 15 inspiring workshops of the Leadership Summer Camp 2022 on the website.

About Brigitte Lipschutz

Brigitte is an Executive Coach. Her career path, with her doctoral thesis in cognitive neuroscience, her work experience at the Boston Consulting Group and Chez Egon Zehnder as well as her ten years of experience supporting executives give her training courses the right mix of science, pragmatism and personal development.

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