Demotivation: 7 Ways You Might Be Killing Your Team’s Spirit

Could your efforts to lead actually lead to demotivation?

A team’s spirit means everything when it comes to productivity, engagement, and satisfaction.  But sometimes, despite our best intentions, the way we lead can become a source of demotivation.

Here are seven things you might be doing that deplete your team’s morale, and what you can do to get them motivated again.

Demotivation - 7 Ways You Might Be Killing Your Team's Spirit
Pixabay / jill111

Fast Track to Demotivation

1. Punishing honest mistakes.

Most people don’t wake in the morning planning to mess things up. It just comes with the territory for us as error-prone humans.  And that’s OK, so long as we are willing to try again, hopefully a little wiser the next time around.

But if you punish someone for honestly trying, part of the lesson they learn may be that it’s not worth the attempt in the first place.  So before getting out the big hammer, think about what you really want to achieve.

Maybe what they need is thoughtful coaching and positive reinforcement, not time in the penalty box.

2. Setting impossible goals.

This can be common, especially with a new leader who wants to make her mark.  The thinking goes that “If the previous leader achieved X, well, we’re going to double that.

The problem is that your team may not think that ambitious goal is even remotely possible, given the effort it took to get to X in the first place.

Goals are good, especially well-designed goals.  But you can do yourself a big favor by getting your team involved in figuring out what those goals should be and how they can be achieved.

When you have your team’s input and engagement, the goals may not be quite as lofty, but you have a much better chance of actually achieving them with the help of your team.

3. Stealing the glory.

People like to feel that their efforts matter.  But when they have to watch someone else (you?) get the credit for their work, it can be a huge source of demotivation.

Taking credit for other’s work will create a credibility gap that is hard to overcome as the leader.

Instead, work hard to give the glory.  Make a special effort to recognize teammates when they score a win.  Be specific about what they did that was good, and why it mattered.  It will encourage them to do more of the same.  And just as importantly, others will see that their efforts are appreciated.

Leadership: Be the first to take the blame, and the last to take the credit. Click To Tweet

4. Killing the buzz.

Pause a moment and look in the faces of your teammates.  What do you see?  Is anyone smiling?  Your teammate’s faces are like windows into their minds and are one of the ways you can get immediate feedback on your leadership.  If all you see are frowns and stress, maybe something needs to change.

Look for ways to lighten the mood.

Start by smiling more – your attitude sets the tone.
Have a quick morning huddle and include a “joke of the day.”
Gather the team to celebrate their achievements and milestones like birthdays.
Do lunch together once in a while.
Have someone bring in the Friday morning snack (you go first!).
Use a funny icebreaker to kick off a meeting.
Have public nominations for co-worker “play of the day.”

Brief, positive group activities can do a lot to change the mood for the better, build a sense of teamwork, and improve motivation for everyone.

5. Hogging the decisions.

Leaders want to feel as though they are doing their jobs well.  For many, that translates to the idea that they have to be solving problems and giving orders all the time.  Soon, it seems as though every little action has to go through them.

What’s really happening is they are robbing their teammates of initiative and self-direction.  And in the process, they are filling their own time unnecessarily.  They end up busy, but not necessarily focused on things they should be doing more of, like anticipating, planning, coordinating, and leading.

Give your people space to work.  Carefully and clearly define where their authorities lie, and teach them to make responsible choices.  And when they make an honest mistake in the process, see #1 above.

Never tell people how... Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. – G. S. Patton Click To Tweet

6. Letting them hide.

Sometimes duties and responsibilities are unclear, and you can’t tell if a specific teammate is carrying his share of the load.  Under murkey conditions like these, people are tempted to engage in a phenomenon known as Social Loafing.

The Sucker Effect
Pixabay / strausadolf

They ease back on the throttle because they believe that others will pick up the slack, and nobody will call them on it. Soon the “Sucker Effect” comes into play, and it becomes a competition to see who can do the least.

Re-look your organizational playbook, check job descriptions, review performance reviews.  Are the requirements specific and clear?  Do your teammates understand them? Are you holding them accountable?

Use that time you saved in #5 to bring more clarity to how you delegate, and to refine your accountability processes.

7.  Commanding a galley.

In some places I’ve worked, we would joke about being oarsmen on a Roman Galley.  Below decks, it’s cramped, smelly, and the view never changes.  All day long the master with the whip repeatedly cries, “Row, and live.”

If the daily experience of your team is one of hard labor and unchanging drudgery, think about what you can do to bring variety and stimulate interest.  Alternate positions, cross-train, change the daily pattern, there are even plenty of ways to add some variety to that meeting everyone loves to hate.

New perspectives in the working environment can engender deeper understanding of how the team functions, and motivate teammates to improved performance.

Demotivation – The Takeaway

Sometimes our efforts to lead can actually result in the demotivation of the team, despite our best intentions.

Take a look at how you are interacting with your teammates every day, and ask “Am I doing something that takes the wind out of their sails?”

And if you are, maybe it’s time to make a change.

It’s a lot easier to sail on the winds of motivation than by the crack of the whip.

Lead On!

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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