What to Do When Your New Team is Unmotivated

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When executives take new roles, they are often surprised by the talent inherit. Sometimes, that’s a positive thing – they’re stepping into leadership of a team that’s better than they expected.

But sometimes new executives find themselves facing unexpected challenges.

You may find, for example, that your new team seems unmotivated.

In this scenario, what’s the next step?

If a past leader failed to achieve business results, it’s possible that the team is part of the problem. If that’s true, some difficult choices will have to be made. But it’s important to understand why the team is unmotivated before deciding what should be done about it.

Here are a few of the most common reasons your new team may be unmotivated, along with what you’ll need to do in each context to turn things around.

They have change fatigue.

If a team has gone through too much change too fast without many wins along the way, they may simply be fatigued. It happens.

When any human is subjected to a constant state of letdown and struggle, they’re likely to become demoralized – even A-players. So, it’s important to take time to assess what your new team has been through in the last 6-18 months before implementing new initiatives or handing out quick judgment.

For instance:

·      Did they have an ineffectual boss?

·      Have they suffered some unusually stressful business demands?

·      Have they been treated badly by management?

If you do determine that your team is fatigued, it’s important to take whatever time that you can to make the work environment more positive. Can you reduce re-work? Eliminate unnecessary work? Update outmoded practices or technology that may make the work easier?

Along the way, focus on any wins and signs of improvement you can find – even the seemingly-small ones. The key in this scenario is to make things better before expecting too much directional change.

They’re bored.

If a team is strong but hasn’t had any new challenges for a while, they’ve probably grown complacent or bored.

In this case, what’s needed is an uptick in expectations.

Consider implementing a special project or designating a stretch assignment, perhaps with increased visibility. Setting higher expectations might be just the thing to rev up their engines.

But, again, you’ll only know if this is the case if you’ve learned about their recent history as a team.

They’re underachievers.

This is the worst scenario to step into: inheriting a team that simply isn’t good.

How did it happen? It’s likely that their past boss was either a micromanager or completely checked out.

Both of these bosses are fairly appealing to lower achievers. While micromanagement is definitely an irritating leadership style, low performers are more likely to tolerate it because it only requires them to be order takers, which isn’t hard.

If, on the other hand, the boss was totally checked out, there’s almost certainly a lack of discipline, structure, and guidance. The absence of those things creates a context that lower performers enjoy, so you’ll have to reintroduce expectations for a high level of performance.

If your new team is made up of underachievers, you may have some managing out to do.

Motivating a New Team Starts with Understanding

The bottom line is this: the history of your new team will tell you a lot about their level of motivation. And understanding where they’re coming from will help you to motivate them moving forward.

Want more clarity? We can help.

We’ve worked with new executives across industries and organizations, from Fortune 100 firms to startups, to help align and optimize teams for success through new leader assimilation. Unmotivated teams are nothing new. And, in many cases, they can be turned around with the correct approach.

If you want insight from the trenches on motivating a team for better results – let’s talk.