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  • Writer's pictureStefano Calvetti

10 Team Motivation Ideas for When the Things Get Difficult

We all know that, as Michael Jordan said,

"Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships."

However, maintaining team motivation isn't always sunshine and rainbows. Motivation is nothing less than the glue that keeps a group working together. Therefore, the equation is simple: no motivation, no team.


Motivation can fluctuate over time and be especially strained when things get complicated, like deadlines looming significantly and challenges piling up. That's when even the most dedicated team can lose their spark because of stress and internal conflicts.

A group of six cheerful colleagues sits in a casual office environment, joining hands in the center of their circle as a gesture of unity and teamwork. They are smiling and appear to be engaged in a team-building exercise, symbolizing cooperation and collective motivation. The diversity in their attire and hairstyles reflects the creative and inclusive atmosphere of their workspace.
Motivation is the glue that keeps a group working together.

Stressing periods were not unusual when I was in the Navy: training and deployments can really test a crew's cohesion. However, I think the most challenging time was when the ship I was commanding had a series of unexpected failures, leading to some relevant efficiency problems.


You won't believe it, but these days, we were able to increase team cohesion and motivation using some data-driven and unconventional tactics.

Here are 10 team motivation ideas drawn from my experience:

  1. Embrace Failure: dwelling on mistakes is tempting, and also a demotivator, but strategically leveraging them can be a potent tool. We hosted a "failure fiesta" – a post-mortem analysis session focused on extracting lessons learned, not assigning blame. Frame challenges as opportunities to experiment and iterate, fostering a growth mindset within the team.

  2. Micro-Wins, Macro-Motivation: Large, distant goals can feel overwhelming, especially during tough times. We learned to break down long-term objectives into smaller, achievable milestones, celebrating each success, no matter how seemingly insignificant. Seeing progress, even in bite-sized chunks, fueled motivation and reinforced the team's belief in their ability to achieve the bigger picture.

  3. Transparency: Information silos and secrecy are morale killers. When things got difficult, I always kept my crew in mind and kept them informed, even if the news wasn't rosy. We took good care in explaining challenges honestly, outlining the team's role in overcoming them. Transparency fostered trust and a sense of ownership, motivating individuals to contribute their best efforts.

  4. Empowerment: Pep talks have their place, but proper motivation comes from feeling valued and capable. That's' why we understood that delegating tasks stretched skillsets and provided opportunities for professional development, encouraging calculated risks and experimentation. Empowering team members fosters autonomy and a sense of purpose, leading to increased motivation and ownership over their work – and it allows a better distribution of the workload.

  5. Metrics that Matter: Vague notions of "doing well" don't inspire. We established clear, measurable performance metrics aligned with the team's goals to track progress visually, allowing crew members to see their contribution to the bigger picture. We appreciated how data-driven feedback provided a sense of direction and accomplishment, keeping motivation high.

  6. Purpose: Remind your team of the "why" behind their work. How does their role contribute to the company's mission and impact the lives of customers or communities? When things got hard, we reconnected with the purpose behind the daily grind to reignite a sense of meaning and fuel intrinsic motivation.

  7. Social Recognition: A quick "good job" email is nice, but public recognition goes further. We introduced the habit of recognizing individual and team achievements on every occasion. However, there is a trick: go beyond the generic prize and specifically acknowledge the skills and effort displayed, making the recognition meaningful and motivating for the recipient and inspiring others.

  8. Gamification for the Win: Healthy competition can be a powerful motivator. We have implemented gamified elements into our workflow (points for completing tasks), offering small rewards or recognition for achieving game-related goals. A suggestion to make it more efficient: ensure the game complements your work process and prioritize intrinsic over extrinsic motivation.

  9. Change the Scenery: Sometimes, a change of environment can do wonders for motivation. It's hard to achieve when you are on a ship deployed at sea, but we managed to organize meetings in unusual spaces to bring a fresh perspective that could reignite creativity, spark new ideas, and boost team morale.

  10. Prioritize Well-Being, Motivate Naturally: A burnt-out team is an unmotivated team. Looking back at my experience, burnout is a real threat when deployed away from home. We encouraged healthy work-life balance by creating spaces on the ship for physical activity and making Sundays recognizable from the other weekdays (no wake-up calls, slower start, and other treats). When team members feel valued and supported outside of the mere work, they're more likely to bring their best selves to the table, naturally boosting motivation.

Motivation is a complex matter, not always easy to "tame." The tactics I have used and cited above are toolboxes, not one-size-fits-all solutions. Therefore, I strongly recommend tailoring your approach to your specific team's needs and adapting as needed.


Most importantly, don't be afraid to try and experiment because team motivation is vital to every company or team.


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