Recovering From Lost Motivation On A Team Requires Shared Alignment And Commitment

Episode 89

November 21, 2012


mindset teams

The Agile Weekly Crew discuss losing motivation, personal alignment and hard work.

Jade Meskill: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agile Weekly Podcast. I’m Jade Meskill.

Drew LeSueur: I’m Drew LeSueur.

Derek Neighbors: I’m Derek Neighbors.

Roy vandeWater: I’m Roy van de Water.

Team Has Lost It’s Motivation

Jade: Guys, I wanted to talk about a hypothetical situation where what if the team that you’re working in has lost its motivation? You find yourself in a coaching role, a mentoring role, and the people that you’re working with just seem to have lost all their energy, really not making any forward progress. What would you do if faced with that situation?

Drew: I’m thinking maybe something, an activity, or something to spark the joy that they maybe once had in that. I don’t know what that would be, but try to get them to remember the joy that they had at one time.

Derek: To me, I think it depends. Do I know what’s causing it? Is it that they’re just working a ton of hours? Is it that they’re only working on defects? Is it that they don’t understand the product and the market? Is it that nobody is adopting the product?

Roy: They hate the people they’re working with?

Drew: They hate their coach?

What Are The Symptoms Or Causes

Derek: What are some of the symptoms or potential causes?

Jade: Let’s say that they’re working at a sustainable pace. Nobody is burning the midnight oil, or anything like that. They have a reasonable idea of where they’re supposed to be going, they just don’t seem to be real excited about going there.

Derek: I think motivation is this kind of tricky thing, that you have to really buy into it. If they’re not motivated in going there, I’m assuming that it’s one of two reasons. Either that where they’re being asked to go really doesn’t have a lot of meaning, and they actually know that, and their way of actualizing that is by disengagement.

The other possibility is that where they’re going is meaningful, but whoever is asking them to go there hasn’t done a good job of providing that meaning in enough detail to get them excited about the journey.

I think if people aren’t excited about the direction that something is going, or where it’s going, the barrier that it creates for them to actually be engaged can become to the point where it’s significant enough you can’t overcome it.

Some of that depends on the people. Some people are fairly excitable. It doesn’t take a whole lot to get them excited about going somewhere. Some people are real sticks‑in‑the‑mud and you really have to fight, maybe even on a daily basis, to keep them going in a direction.

I would probably say, if that was the case, I would start with asking myself, “Does this team really have a compelling vision and reason for going where they’re going?” If the answer is “Yes,” start doing something to get them down the path of realizing the impact of the work they’re doing.

Until I could do that, there is probably not a lot of tricks I could do that would last more than a week or so. I might be able to temporarily engage them in something, but the truth is, “Let’s work on this fun new thing for a little bit!” As soon as the fun‑ness wears off then we’re right back to where we started. I think it’s always got to be the root of, they’ve got to believe where they are going.

Roy: Now is it my turn? Is that why you guys are staring at me?

Derek: [laughs] I don’t know.

Roy: I don’t know. I don’t have any opinions, not in this case.

All Out Of Tricks

Jade: [laughs] That’s a lie!

Let’s imagine that we’ve tried a few of the things to boost the energy, and like Derek said, it’s had a short‑term positive effect but its kind of worn down and now we’re out of tricks.

This team still says that they still want to go in the direction that they’re heading, at least that’s what they say on the surface. Is it OK to have a season where you’re not making a whole lot of progress?

Season Of No Motivation

Derek: I would say that if the team was not making forward momentum, the answer is “No,” but I think it’s OK to say, maybe for this particular thing, “Hey, if we’re not making progress in this, we’re not moving forward with this particular thing, and none of us can be energized to get behind it, maybe we say, ‘For right now, yeah, we believe that’s a good direction to be going in, something that’s worth doing.’

“But if we can’t find the motivation to do it maybe we need to move into, ‘What does motivate us? Where is somewhere we want to go?’ Maybe we go through that until we get out of whatever that funk is.” Meaning, sometimes maybe you need a distraction. Maybe it’s a week, maybe it’s a day, maybe it’s a month, to basically be re‑energized back to level set.

Jade: Do you run the risk of chasing the new shiny?

Giving Up When It Gets Hard

Derek: Yeah, I think that most teams, that’s their problem. that they don’t really understand where and why they’re going somewhere.

They think they do, but they don’t actually know, so when the rubber hits the road, and you get to what I’d call “The grind,” or “The hard part,” or “The Dip,” as Seth Godin would say, I think it becomes like, “This isn’t so great. It’s not so shiny, it’s not so fun. I know I really want it, but I don’t really want it bad enough to push forward.”

I think that, at that point, you either have to decide, “Hey, am I going to go a different direction?” but you run the risk of, do you constantly just run the other direction when you hit the dip? Or do you say, “I’m going to have to push through. I’m going to have to do that.”

I think sometimes, to me I think maybe that’s where a coach…Maybe that’s where external factor, maybe it’s a jerk on the team, somebody who pushes that issue and says, “One or the other, go.”

I can talk a little bit from an analogy perspective. I’ve got a daughter that plays pretty high‑level competitive soccer, and I think she lost, I won’t say “Her interest.” I think if I asked her, “Yeah, I still want to play in the US women’s national team, but you know what? It’s a lot of work.

“I’m spending four hours a night, four nights a week doing this, playing on the weekends. I’m getting screamed at, and it’s emotionally difficult, and everything else.” I told her, “Why don’t you just quit? Why don’t you take a break for a while, you just play high school soccer, and don’t do that?”

She was like, “No, I really don’t want to.” I’m like, “Well, you know you’re not performing, you’re not having this.” She got a new coach, and this particular coach is a role model for her, played on the US women’s national team. Can speak her language, and was really hard on her, and pulled her aside and said, “Look, if you really, truly, want this, what you’re currently putting in, you will never get there.””

“You’re telling me you want this. I’m going to sit you on the bench, and I will not play you until you show me that that’s what you really want.” It took her about two weeks of a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth, and now she is more committed than ever.

I think sometimes you have to look into the the fire and say, “Is this what I really want? If it is, how do I dig into that deeper level to get there?” The problem is that that’s deeply personal. It’s very difficult to do that at a team level.

Avoiding Our Issues

Jade: But is that part of the problem of a team who’s lost their motivation? That at a personal level, they haven’t dealt with those things?

Especially if many of the people on the team are in that same situation, it’s a lot easier to just avoid it and focus on some of the surface level things that are going on. Instead of really, really digging down and saying, “OK, is this really what I want? Am I willing to cry about this, and get really upset, and finally work my way through it at a personal level, and now I can deal with it at a team level”?

Making The Sacrifice, Delayed Gratification

Derek: I think a lot of it too is, usually what I see happening in those aspects are there’s some level of sacrifice involved.

In my daughter’s case, “I can’t spend a night in anybody’s house on Friday and Saturday, because I’ve got games all weekend. I get no sleep, because by the time I get home from soccer practice it’s eight or nine o’clock at night. By the time I eat and I do my homework, it’s 11 o’clock at night, and I have to be back up at 5 o’clock in the morning.

All of these things are like, “Look, I’m missing all this other stuff, and so every day, it’s a decision, ‘Do I do this or do I do that?’ and the ‘This’ isn’t immediate. Spending the night with my friends is immediate satisfaction, and I had a great time spending that with my friends. Training and going to the game does not have immediate satisfaction.

“Whether I win that game or I lose that game, I’m not going to try out for the women’s national team for four more years. I have to learn how to delay my gratification on what I’m putting a sacrifice for, for a significant amount of time.”

I think as individuals and especially teams, that’s usually where it’s at. It’s like, “I have to make this decision of, ‘Do I piss this person off?’, or, ‘Do I miss out on this thing?’, or ‘Do I do this right now, today?’ for something that I don’t even know if it’s actually attainable. I don’t even know if I can actually get there.”

I think that yeah, that’s deeply personal stuff. Then I think it cascades and complicates, because you can’t do any of those things by yourself. In my daughter’s case, it’s pretty much on her, probably, to be able to make the national team or not.

But if you’re talking a company, you’re talking a team, or you’re talking a product, one person can’t deliver a product. One person can’t deliver whatever. Now you’re lying faith in other people to push through whatever they’re going through as well.

How To Get Out Of A Motivation Crisis

Jade: What could we recommend for a team that’s maybe facing this crisis of faith in wherever it is that they’re heading? What is it that we could encourage them to try to do to work through a lot of the personal issues before they can even bring it to the team?

They’ll probably have to rework through the forming, storming, norming again after you’ve dealt with this internal issue.

Derek: Just chase the new shiny. It’s a lot easier than when you go to work.

Jade: [laughs]

Derek: It’s more fun too.

On a personal level, I think each person on a team has to take assessment of where they’re at, where they want to be. Do they really want to go whatever direction the team is looking to do with their product or whatnot, and say, “Is this something I can get in alignment on?”

If the answer is “Yes”, then I think that they have to look back to everybody else on the team that is in the same boat and then say, “How do we help each other get there? How do we hold ourselves to be accountable?”

I see this a lot of times. I like my sports analogies. You see this a lot of times on teams too. One of the premier teams that I coached for a long time, they really had this whole concept of “Be excellent.”

What they would do is they would really hold each other to that standard. If somebody passed somebody a ball that wasn’t a great ball, they would say, “I demand excellence.” It wasn’t a rude thing, it was, “We’re all going to remind each other that if we really want to win a state championship, we’re only as good as our weakest pass.

“It only takes one failure in defense to give up a goal. It only takes missing one shot to not score a goal. In this sport it’s a difference of one goal when you’re at that level, so we have to demand that of each other.”

It’s making that internal commitment to each other. To say, “If we’re all making the personal commitment to this, now we need to make the team commitment to that same thing, whatever that level is.” Not only so you have accountability, but so that you have the ability to help each other to that level.

Shared Alignment And Commitment

Jade: If you’re not in alignment on those things, it’s going to be very difficult to do that. If a few people on the team are pushing in that direction, I think it’s going to be very abrasive to the rest of the people who aren’t on board with that.

What happens if people don’t want to get on board or go through that trial?

Derek: If nobody on the team wants to do that, then obviously the team needs to find what they do want, something that aligns to their personal piece. If you’ve got part of a team does, part of a team doesn’t, do you split into two teams? If it’s one or two people, does it make sense?

I’ve seen this happen. Going back to the sports analogies, LeBron James would be a great example of this. “Cleveland Cavaliers, we’re not going to win a national championship. I want a national championship. I’m willing to take less money to go somewhere where I can win a national championship, because for me, that’s what’s the most important thing.

“Being the superstar, or the highest paid or whatever, that’s not what I’m looking for. I’m looking for a ring, because that’s what I’m getting criticized for. That’s what I’m interested in, and I make that move.”

That’s not saying that necessarily the other people on the Cavaliers didn’t want it, but their general office wasn’t willing…

Jade: They weren’t willing to leave to do it?

Getting Real

Derek: Their general management wasn’t willing to spend the money to get the other supporting cast members to do it.

I think that that’s part of it too, when you’re dealing with skills gaps or other things. Sometimes you have to say, “If we really want to get to here, we’re trying to achieve this, you have to be realistic.” What does that mean for each person on the team? What do they have to do to be able to help the team get there?

At that point they might say, “I’m not good enough to be on this team. I need to be on another team and make do with that, or I need to step up my game, or I need to get a personal trainer.” Whatever that thing is.

I want to be on a team that travels more. That’s what’s important to me. I don’t care if we win games. Maybe I’m just trying to get recruited for college, so I want to be on a team. I don’t care if they’re any good or not, from that standpoint. I don’t care if they win a state championship, I just want to be seen by college coaches.

Whatever your goal is, if you don’t have personal alignment it’s impossible to be on a team that has team alignment.

You Have To Know What You Want

Jade: That’s the re‑occurring theme that I keep hearing through this whole discussion. If you don’t know what you want, it’s going to be impossible to work together as a collective to get what you want.

You out there in listener land, if you’ve been through some of a similar journey please share with us on our Facebook page. We’d love to hear some of the experiences that you have, or techniques you used to work through an issue like this.

Thanks for listening to the podcast. We’ll catch you next time.

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