• Summary
  • Contents
  • Subject index

The author shows how managers in education can contribute to school improvement, and focus on the essential personal and practical management skills needed to instill a positive team culture.

Motivating Members of the Team
Motivating members of the team

The ability to motivate others is – next to delegating – perhaps the most quintessential management skill. It involves not only the provision of an amenable working environment, but also of intrinsic interest, responsibility and recognition.

(Lessem, 1991)

Today's increasing pressure on schools to perform well means that a highly motivated staff is vital to achieve improvements. Therefore, learning how to motivate the team has become an essential skill for team leaders. For good reasons, motivation has become one of the buzz-words of modern leadership and management. How often do we hear, and possibly use, phrases like: ‘He lacks motivation’, ‘Pat really knows how to motivate her team – they'll do anything for her’, ‘We need to motivate the staff …’? Yet, like all human states, motivation is both highly individual and complex and there is a difference between what motivates people to perform at a high level and what leads to indifferent performance. This chapter looks at the nature of motivation and describes how to make sense of what is known about motivation theory in order to create and sustain a positive team attitude. By responding to the following likely questions from team leaders, the chapter offers advice and techniques to put these aspects into practice:

What is Motivation?

Like many theories about management and leadership, ‘motivation is a contested concept with no agreed, single definition’ (Law and Glover, 2000). Despite difficulties over its precise nature, motivation is pivotal for team leaders because it is what makes people want to do things. Motivation is what makes them put real effort into what they do. Clearly, motivation varies in its nature and intensity from one person to another, depending on the particular range of influences impacting on them at any given time. We all recognize motivation by its presence but, more often, we are aware of its absence. The attitudes and behaviour of team colleagues are a good indication of their motivational state. Table 3.1 details some of the tell-tale signs of ‘present’ and ‘absent’ motivation.

Table 3.1 Indicators of present and absent motivation
Signs that motivation is presentSigns that motivation is absent
  • High performance
  • High results being consistently achieved
  • Energy, enthusiasm and determination to succeed
  • Unstinting cooperation to overcome problems
  • Willingness to accept responsibility
  • Willingness to accommodate necessary change
  • Apathy and indifference towards the job
  • Poor record of timekeeping and high absenteeism
  • Exaggeration of the effects/difficulties encountered in problems, disputes and grievances
  • Lack of cooperation in dealing with problems or difficulties
  • Unjustified resistance to change

In the current climate of rapid change and ever-increasing pressure in schools, effective team leaders need to be both well-organized managers and highly skilled in understanding people's basic requirements and behaviours in the workplace. So much of the team leader's success relies on gaining commitment, nurturing talent and ensuring that team members are motivated and productive. All of this does not come about magically or mysteriously. It requires effective communication and trust between team leaders and their staff colleagues.

Why is Motivation So Important to the Work of a Team?

Despite the difficulties of being precise about the nature of motivation, the concept is critical for team leaders since it concerns:

  • the goals that influence team behaviour;
  • the thought processes that we use to identify our needs and drives towards particular goals and decisions; and
  • the social processes that influence our behaviour patterns (see Figure 3.1).
Figure 3.1 The importance of motivation to the work of the team

Motivation is vital in any job if people are to give of their best. If we assume that staff are given adequate opportunity to perform well and have the necessary skills, then it is their motivation that determines whether they are truly effective or not. Your team members are undoubtedly a critical resource – as well as being a costly one – and no matter what the degree of sophistication we achieve in terms of technology, we will always be reliant on human factors to maximize their skills and attributes.

How Does a Team Leader Recognize the Needs of Team Members? In What Ways Can Motivation Theory Help Me?

People have a variety of needs, many of which go far beyond basics such as good working conditions, job security and fair pay. These have to be met, but doing so will not in itself give satisfaction. Failures with the basic needs nearly always explain dissatisfaction among staff. On the other hand, meeting people's higher-level needs such as pride in their work and sharing in the goals of the school or the department, though a lot more difficult, invariably leads to satisfaction. Research into people's behaviour, dating from the 1940s, has suggested that people are motivated by a range of needs, both at work and in their personal lives. There are a number of theories about what motivates individuals to work harder. Each has different implications for how you work as a team leader to motivate those for whom you are responsible. Several motivation theories work on the assumption that given the opportunity and the right prompts, individuals work well and productively. Effective team leaders remain constantly alert to what these prompts might be for individual team members. Three of the most influential theories are those of Maslow, Herzberg et al. and McGregor.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

The clinical psychologist Abraham Maslow believed that all people have needs that they wish to have satisfied. He grouped these needs into a five-stage ‘hierarchy of needs’ (Figure 3.2), starting with the basic needs for food and shelter and culminating in higher level self-actualization or self-fulfilment needs.

A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization … It refers to the desire for self-fulfilment, namely the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially … the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.

(Maslow, 1943)
Figure 3.2 Maslow's hierarchy of needs

According to Maslow, the needs are tackled in order: as you draw nearer to satisfying one need, the priority of the next one becomes higher. He also proposed that, once a need has been met, it is no longer a prompt. In schools, for example, the Maslow hierarchy is particularly relevant because individuals do not just need money and rewards; they also need respect and interaction. When agreeing roles and objectives and organizational structures it is worth bearing in mind the full range of needs in the Maslow hierarchy. Some people may put self-actualization before satisfying lower order needs. Some people may even experience all needs in the course of one day. The theory is not without its problems since, in applying this theory in schools, we seek to satisfy many of our needs outside the workplace.

The Two-Factor Theory of Herzberg Et Al.

Herzberg, Mausner and Snyderman (1959) developed a two-factor theory for motivation based on ‘hygiene factors’ and ‘motivators’. By hygiene factors (Table 3.2) they refer to basic human needs at work which, in themselves, do not motivate, but their absence causes significant dissatisfaction. Some of these factors, e.g. parking space, holiday entitlement, office space, can be viewed as trivial, whereas pay, finance and resources are important hygiene factors.

Table 3.2 Hygiene factors (based on Herzberg et al., 1959)
Hygiene factorsDescriptions
Salary and benefitsIncome, fringe benefits, bonuses, holidays, etc.
Working conditionsWorking hours, workplace layout, facilities, equipment, etc.
Organizational policiesRules and regulations; formalities and informalities, etc.
StatusRank, authority, relationship to others, etc.
Job securityDegree of confidence employee has regarding continued employment
Supervision and autonomyExtent of control that an individual has over the content and execution of the job
Relationships at workLevel and type of interpersonal relations within the work environment
Personal lifeTime spent on family, friends and interests

The second of Herzberg et al.'s two factors is a set of ‘motivators’ (Table 3.3) that actually drive people to achieve. These are what team leaders should aim to provide in order to maintain a satisfied workforce. Motivators are built around obtaining growth and self-actualization from tasks.

Table 3.3 Motivators (based on Herzberg et al., 1959)
MotivatorsWhy they work
AchievementReaching or exceeding task objectives is particularly important because the onwards and upwards urge to achieve is a basic human drive. It is one of the most powerful motivators and a great source of satisfaction.
RecognitionThe acknowledgement of achievements by others (at a senior level especially) is motivational because it helps to enhance self-esteem. For many staff members, recognition may be viewed as a reward in itself.
Job interestsA job that provides satisfaction for individuals and groups will be a greater motivational force than a job that does not sustain interest. As far as possible, responsibilities should be matched to individuals' interests.
ResponsibilityThe power to exercise authority and power may demand leadership skills, risk-taking, decision-making, and self-direction, all of which raise self-esteem and are strong motivators.
AdvancementPromotion, progress and rising rewards for achievement are important here. Possibly the main motivator, however, is the feeling that advancement is possible.
McGregor's Theory X and Theory Y

Douglas McGregor (1960) proposed that motivation is influenced by two sets of contrasting assumptions about people and work (Table 3.4). He suggested, albeit over-simplistically, that managers make either Theory X or Theory Y assumptions about the way others behave.

Table 3.4 Theory X and Theory Y assumptions (based on McGregor, 1960)
Theory X assumptionsTheory Y assumptions
  • Most people inherently dislike work and will avoid it if possible.
  • People must be coerced, controlled, directed or threatened with punishment to get them to put in adequate effort at work – they are self-centred and lack ambition.
  • People prefer to be directed, wish to avoid responsibility, have relatively little ambition and, above all, want security.
  • People are, by nature, physically and mentally energetic.
  • People do not need to be externally controlled or directed. They will exercise self-direction in pursuit of objectives to which they are committed.
  • People will seek and accept responsibility under the right conditions.
  • People have the capacity to exercise a high degree of creativity, imagination and ingenuity.

McGregor believed that Theory Y brought about more effective leadership, although he did concede that there were occasions when Theory X behaviour might be appropriate. If team leaders choose either of these sets of assumptions, there may be a tendency for team members to respond to the way they are led, for example, if team members believe that they are not being trusted they may behave in a less trustworthy way. As team leaders we should make every effort to avoid perpetuating Theory X thinking patterns – limited and routinized job activity. Instead we need to promote Theory Y behaviour in order to encourage creativity.

How Do I Set about Trying to Understand Staff Attitudes and Build Their Motivation?

To inspire people to work – individually and in teams – in ways that produce the best results, team leaders need to tap into their own personal motivational forces. The art of motivating people starts with an understanding of colleagues' behaviour and then learning how to influence that behaviour. Recognizing certain behaviours and the reasons behind them are important. Team leaders can do this by:

  • listening carefully to what is being said;
  • interpreting what is said correctly; and
  • reading the body language being presented.

By employing the above strategies, you will become aware of motivational behaviour, that is, the way staff:

  • guard each others' interests;
  • freely volunteer their services and ideas;
  • react to being asked to undertake new or additional tasks; and
  • show, through their expressions, that they are visibly happy in their work.

We all suffer from insecurity at some time in our lives. The anxiety we experience say, as a result of our excessive workloads, our subsequent inability to meet deadlines, the pressures of preparing our students for SATs and public examinations, can often add to that insecurity. To build our motivation and thus our confidence we need:

  • our contributions to be appropriately recognized and acknowledged;
  • to be invited to perform high-level tasks; and
  • to be supplied with accurate information.

However, it is important that team leaders understand ‘who they are’ and their attitudes towards team members. Our attitudes towards others are influenced by our experience and will shape the way in which we behave towards the people we meet. Various strategies can be employed by team leaders for encouraging motivation. Armstrong (1988), proposed three approaches to motivation (Figure 3.3) while conceding that each has its merits and its deficiencies:

  • The ‘carrot and stick’ approach – based on the notion that people work for rewards: the better the incentive, the harder people are likely to work.
  • Motivating through the work itself – based on the notion that offering people fulfilling work will raise their level of satisfaction, thus improving their performance levels.
  • The ‘one-minute-manager’ system – based on the notion that you should set goals for staff, give them positive feedback when they perform well, and negative, but sensitive, feedback when they do something wrong.
Figure 3.3 Approaches to motivation (based on Armstrong, 1988)

Because it is the responsibility of team leaders to do all that they can to motivate their teams, they are best placed to create the climate in which people will ‘grow’ and want to give of their best. It is true that there are certain factors outside some team leaders' span of control or influence, e.g. pay, status, terms and conditions of employment. Yet they can provide the recognition, responsibility, and challenging work that represent the most powerful motivating factors. With this in mind, it is important for team leaders to remember that staff:

  • like to be consulted about what they have to do – just being told what to do does not generate feelings of ownership for a particular policy or action;
  • like managers who are willing to listen – feeling that their views are of no significance is demotivating;
  • appreciate being seen as valuable individuals with specialist skills – being seen as a mere cog in the machine, easily replaced by other cogs, does not build self-esteem;
  • respond to sensitive managers – heavy-handed use of authority is often counter-productive;
  • perform better when they enjoy their work and feel relaxed – managers who can spread good cheer and empower will help to motivate them;
  • whose successes are recognized become more successful and more motivated – praise is important.

It has been said that there are four kinds of people in the world:

  • People who watch things happen
  • People to whom things happen
  • People who do not know what is happening
  • People who make things happen

If you are to be a team leader that makes things happen through and with others, you will need to be aware of how you can get your team to work willingly and well to achieve team goals. Among the strategies available to team leaders are those shown in Table 3.5.

Table 3.5 Strategies for building motivation
What to doHow to do it
Make team members feel valued
  • spend time getting to know people and then support them
  • be considerate and fair
  • listen to people
  • regularly monitor their work
  • show an interest in what is important to them
  • create an atmosphere of approval and cooperation
  • ensure that they understand the importance of their contribution to the team and to the school
Provide opportunities for development
  • communicate clearly and don't be frightened by debate
  • set standards for the team
  • agree performance management objectives with each team member
  • provide training and coaching
  • use their expertise to train others
  • make best use of their individual and combined skills
  • increase the level of consultation and discussion, particularly at times of change
Recognize achievements
  • recognize expertise and appreciate the work done
  • recognize and praise success, and build on it
  • report regularly on team progress and successes
  • make good use of ongoing performance review meetings
Provide challenge
  • set and communicate team objectives
  • delegate authority and responsibility as well as tasks
  • encourage ideas and allow team members the responsibility for implementing them
How Do I Deal with Demotivated People?

However hard you try to prevent staff demotivation, you will not always be successful. Selecting ways of dealing with demotivated people depends on the situation and it is important to analyse each situation to gauge whether the cause is attributable to stress, emotional issues, physical illness, the nature of the job itself, or the person's approach to it. The most helpful advice here is: ask. Talk to the person in order to identify where the problem lies and tailor the remedy to the cause. In summary:

  • stay calm and collected, however emotional the person might become;
  • try to establish the reasons for their dissatisfaction as fully as possible;
  • listen carefully to what they have to say;
  • try to agree a resolution;
  • ensure that you get feedback from the person before the discussion ends to avoid further misunderstanding; and
  • offer him/her further opportunities for discussion.
When I've Got Them Motivated, How Do I Keep Them That Way?

It is one thing successfully to raise the motivation levels of your staff, it is quite another to ensure that things stay that way. Varying working conditions, improving systems and valuing your staff's contribution are ways of doing so. It is important to remember that the majority of those we work with want to feel good about their work and their school. This is a natural drive and one which all team leaders need to nurture. Effective team leaders select trusted individuals to talk to informally about the general mood, as well as developments that affect motivation.

Summary Self-Review

Spend a little time considering and then responding to the following review questions:

  • To what extent do I persuade and influence my team as opposed to demanding what I want?
  • How do I try to ensure that the work is enjoyable for my team?
  • How effectively do I use non-verbal means to communicate and to influence decision-making?
  • How confident am I that I give my team full and frank information whenever possible?
  • How well do I gauge the attitude of team members?
  • How aware am I that I apply Theory Y principles rather than Theory X, or vice versa?
  • How successful am I at involving team members in issues as early as possible?
  • How readily do I give reasons for my actions if I disagree with team members?
  • How effective am I at seeking consensus and encouraging others to do likewise?
  • How readily do I blame others for team failures?
  • How successfully do I achieve a balance between firm control and giving the team independence?
  • How readily do I attempt to improve my motivational skills?
  • How effective am I at removing obstacles to team performance?
  • How clear am I about my benchmarks when gauging team successes?
  • How effectively do I organize the work so that team members can own and complete entire tasks?
  • How successfully do I encourage team members to act on their own initiatives?
  • How well do I confront difficult ‘people’ decisions?
  • How readily do I act to avert or settle disputes and personality clashes within the team?
  • How well do I recognize and praise work done by the team?
  • How alert am I to team members who are not using their full potential?
Action Planning

Having spent some time reviewing your approach to motivating your team, identify some actions that you might take to strengthen your current approach.

  • theory X and theory Y
  • theory X
  • theory Y
  • teams
  • motivation
  • staff
  • self-actualization
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