What to do when your team is Unmotivated

What to do when your team is unmotivated

Post created by Karlie Kildall 
Applied IMC (Winter 2023)

As I’m sure a lot of you know, motivation is not something that comes easily or often.

So, how do we find motivation when we’d rather be doing anything else? 

I’ll forewarn you, it’s not easy. And sometimes it’s impossible.



What is motivation and how does it equal behavior?

Motivation is the reason or reasons that one has for acting or behaving in a particular way. But here’s the catch, behavior is three-pronged. Sure, motivation is one aspect of it but what else is involved in behavior? Well, that’s where the FOGG Behavior Model comes in. According to the FOGG Behavior Model in order for an action to occur three things must be activated. One, motivation, or the ‘want to.’ Two, ability, or the ‘how to.’ And three, trigger, or the ‘remember to.’ At the intersection of all three prongs equals behavior. 

More on Motivation

Now that we have discussed how motivation fits into the action or behavior that is taken, we can look at the matrix of motivation and ability closer. Here's the thing, a person may be perfectly able but unmotivated, or they may be really motivated and unable, or anywhere in between. See the table below for a more thorough breakdown. 

The Motivation Ability Matrix

So, how do we manage these people in our groups? How do we diagnose ourselves and figure out how we’re doing? Well, in the Motivation Ability Matrix, you can see the kinds of actions and roles, if you will, that these types of people may need. For example, a person who is unwilling but able may just lack motivation. So, you need to help them discover why that is. Maybe it is a confidence thing, or maybe it is an accountability issue, or maybe it is that they just plain don’t want to do it. Whatever the case, this type of person needs a parent. They need someone to give them some tough love and boost their confidence a little. Now, you can see how the structure of the Motivation Ability Matrix works. One final note on the Motivation Ability Matrix, the unwilling and unable person is the worst-case scenario. This person not only lacks the skills or knowledge to perform the task but also is unmotivated to do so. In this situation it may be best to remove this person from the team because it is often near impossible to get any productivity out of this person, which is why the role you must play is warden. 


What if I’m the one lacking motivation?

Great question! So, maybe you’re not the one leading the team but you’re the one on the team, or maybe you are a part of another team, or maybe you are the team leader but still find yourself lacking motivation. In any case we all find ourselves lacking motivation sometimes but it’s how we choose to get past it that makes us stronger. 

Here is my simple list of things you can do to help yourself find motivation again:


  1. Make a list of things to do


I find that by having a visual representation of the things I have to do for the day, or week, or month (whatever timeline you’d like) can help me focus on the task at hand. It is also helpful to see the tasks get crossed off as you move your way through the list. By physically seeing yourself cross off the tasks and see your to-do list get smaller it can aid in your motivation to finish the list. 

I like to do mine on paper but another great way to do this is to use some sort of digital task list so you can rearrange your tasks as many times as you’d like (this can also be done on paper, it just takes a little more thought). If you haven’t read my article on the Kanban, you should head over there to read about it, it is kind of like a to-do list.


  1. Start with tasks that interest you or don’t take a lot of time


Starting with tasks that interest you even in the slightest may spark motivation to complete the other tasks. However, I know that some people would prefer to start with the tasks they dislike first so they can save the tasks that interest them for the end, just like how some kids like to eat their veggies first so they can enjoy the rest of the meal that they like more. 

The other thing you can do is start with tasks that don’t take a lot of time. By doing this you are able to get the ball rolling by getting a few tasks done, and if you’re using a to-do list, your list gets shorter even quicker. 


  1. Talk with someone or find resources


By talking with someone, you may find that they have information that you maybe didn’t think of before. They may be able to come at the task from a new perspective that helps you find an easier, better, or quicker way to do it which in turn can increase your motivation. 

Additionally, you can search or ask for resources. Sometimes you may be motivated to do a task but lose that motivation due to struggle or overthinking. Thus, finding resources to help you start or finish the task may help your motivation.


  1. Take a break!


It is important to give yourself breaks, without them you will burn yourself out. Whether it be a 5 minute walk around your apartment to a full on vacation, let your mind and body rest and relax. Let yourself decompress and think of nothing. Oftentimes, letting yourself take a break can re-spark motivation to become more productive. 


  1. Above all else, allow yourself to fail


A big reason people lack motivation is because they hold themselves to such high standards. They think that they must do something to perfection in order to succeed or complete a task. This is NOT true. Sometimes it’s okay to get a bad draft of the task done so that you can reflect and come back to it. By holding yourself to such high standards you are hindering your growth and extinguishing your motivation because you are afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to fail. 

In the end, sometimes motivation just doesn’t happen, and that’s okay. In those cases, the best you can do is try to mediate your motivation or your team's motivation.