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How to Prevent Your Team from Losing Momentum and Motivation

Elise Jones May 13, 2021 1:10:18 PM

Many managers experience the phenomenon where their team is engaged, energized, and excited about a project, only to have that momentum and enthusiasm wane and eventually dwindle. Managers and leaders have been working thoughtfully to build engagement and reinforce team culture while their offices have been remote over the last 18 months. But in some cases, the attempts and strategies that worked a year ago are no longer making an impact. 

Employees who remained highly engaged throughout the most stressful parts of 2020 are now feeling checked out, are lacking interest in their work, and are no longer motivated. 

Figuring out how to re-motivate your employees and keep the momentum going starts with figuring out what is causing your team to be demotivated in the first place. Once you’ve figured out what to look for, you’ll be able to identify common causes for employees to disengage and prevent them before they occur.  

So what causes teams to become demotivated in the first place? Here are four common reasons why employees lose motivation and steam and how leaders can prevent the loss and restore the momentum.

Misalignment of Values

Do your team members care about the work they are doing? If your employees don’t feel connected to the project or assignment, they will be less likely to feel motivated or connected to the work. When the values of the individuals on your team align with the projects they are working on, that spark and energy ignites.

Identifying and staying true to your values is an important part of being able to maintain and sustain high-performance in any endeavor. Values Endurance is one of Valor’s core competencies and is something our coaches routinely work on with C-level executives, senior leaders, rising stars, and other high-performers. It can be difficult to maintain your values and not get distracted by other requests of your time and energy, but when you can relate your work back to the things you care about, you can create that connection and see the meaning of your work. 

As managers, you can identify components of the project with what your employees value. A common misstep is when managers assume that what is important about the task to them is the same for the team or individual who is working on it. Instead, when discussing the project in the early stages, create a connection between what your employee values and the assignment. According to a recent HBR article, these can be values like 

  • Interest value how intellectually compelling or interesting the task is 
  • Identity value how well aligned the skill set required to perform the task is with the employee’s self-conception or identity
  • Importance value how critical the task is to the team or company as a whole 
  • Utility value how impactful getting the job done will be toward furthering the individual’s career goals or preventing an unwanted outcome

The Confidence Trap

A common phenomenon for high-energy, high-performing employees is that their managers see potential in them and assign them tasks and projects that require them to stretch their skills and abilities. This can feel like a great compliment or can create a situation where workers feel like they lack the ability to carry out the assignment and they become demotivated out of a sense of a lack of self-efficacy. 

Managers can step in to coach their employees on their confidence and offer their support wherever it may be needed. This can look like providing resources that may help the employee manage their time and energy to make the task feel more manageable, sharing stories of other individuals on the team who were able to overcome similar challenges, or removing hurdles and barriers that might be causing undue anxiety or friction for the employee such as shifting other responsibilities or pushing other deadlines. Another way to help employees who lack confidence in their ability to carry out a particular project is to break the assignment down into smaller, more manageable chunks. 

The other side of the demotivational confidence trap is when employees feel over-qualified to perform a task. Their confidence in their abilities may be strong enough that they feel the project is beneath them so they don’t put value or importance on completing it. In these instances, referring back to their values, especially importance value or utility value can be a useful strategy. 

Emotional Inflexibility 

There are infinite reasons why an employee can have a negative emotional response to their work or a particular task. Some can be directly related to the assignment itself, others can be purely coincidental. But improving on the employee’s ability to manage and take control of their emotions can restore focus on the project and reignite the momentum needed to complete the task at hand. When workers are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or frustrated, they won’t be able to give their tasks the proper attention and focus. 

A common area of opportunity that Valor coaches work on is Emotional Flexibility, or the ability to adapt and strategically shift our reactions, responses, and behaviors in order to achieve the desired outcome. By having greater flexibility and control over our emotions, we are able to manage setbacks and disappointments, frustrations, and worries in a more practical way. Managers can foster this skill and help build resilience by setting time to listen to the employee’s concerns. 

By engaging in non-judgmental, active listening, managers can build trust with their employees and alleviate some of the negative feelings. Just being heard and feeling understood can have the effect of releasing a pressure valve and can cause negative emotions to lift a bit. In some cases, this can be enough for employees to become re-engaged with their tasks. Following the conversation, managers can take the employee’s concerns and consider how or if they can be addressed. 

Attribution Confusion 

Sometimes employees feel a lack of motivation or connection with a project because they can’t identify what went wrong or why things are not progressing as planned. This can happen when the project isn’t clearly outlined or when the employee identifies the cause of their struggles as being out of their control. If you find your employees tend to make excuses as to why they are struggling, this could be the motivational trap they are falling into. 

Managers can work to help their employees identify what really is the issue holding them back from moving forward on the project. If the reasons mentioned are things that are out of their control, such as not having enough time to complete the task, uncooperative teammates, or a lack of ability to perform the duties required, managers can suggest solutions that are within their control. This requires shifting the employee’s mindset, and can be placing the project in the context of the larger initiative or goal, providing them with more resources or access to tools to make the job easier, or suggesting rethinking the strategy for a different approach. 

Frustration and decline in motivation caused by a perceived lack of control can be reignited by reframing the situation, calling on Valor’s competency of Mental Agility, or the ability to see things from multiple perspectives and get creative when it comes to problem-solving. Setbacks, frustrations, and confusion are something that high-performing teams must be able to manage if they want to continue to grow and perform in a sustainable manner. Reframing these challenges as opportunities will go a long way toward helping to build skills of problem-solving and sustain engagement for the long haul. 

When managers sense a lack of motivation in otherwise highly motivated teams, the natural reaction can be to problem-solve from a project perspective. But often, by focusing instead on the triggers or traps for de-motivation, diagnosing what the culprit is, and applying the right approach or intervention, leaders and managers can avoid or curtail the disengagement effect and reignite the momentum.

 

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