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The Secret To Motivating Any Team

I didn’t learn about leadership by being a boss. Anybody can boss people around. Position power is a leadership crutch. I learned about leadership by leading teams of people with whom I had no formal authority—cross-functional teams. You are only a leader if people want to follow you. The good news is, what I learned is applicable for motivating any team to accomplish big things.

Let’s say that you are leading a cross-functional team. Your team members are from different departments and disciplines and have been assigned to work with you. In other words, they’ve been volunteered for the project. Chances are this undertaking is in addition to their daily responsibilities and they see your project as a barrier to accomplishing their “day job.” Your new teammates are less than thrilled to be here. How do you motivate these people to become a high-performing team?

The secret is hidden in this five-step approach. Let’s see how quickly you can find it.

Step 1: Define the team objective. Publicly state in your kick-off meeting: “Here is what we are going to accomplish.” The objective needs to be specific and time-bound. Everyone on the team needs to know what success looks like. If they don’t know where the finish line is, they will never cross it.

It amazes me how often team “leaders” fail to do this. We all want to follow someone who knows where they are going. Certainty conveys confidence and confidence is a key leadership quality. Conversely, no one wants to follow someone who apparently has no clue where they are going.

Step 2: Recognize expertise. Publicly recognize each stakeholder’s expertise in the area for which they are responsible. In this step, you are acknowledging capability. Capability and expertise are integral parts of our self-identity at work and we have a strong desire to protect our self-identity. Therefore, we will typically work hard to justify the perception of our expertise.

Recognizing expertise sets the bar high. This establishes the expectation that your team members will rise to the occasion.

Step 3: Assign roles. Get each team member to publicly acknowledge how his or her role is essential to the achievement of the overall objective. It is important for each team member to understand and own their role. Why? Because we all want to know how our work contributes to the overall success of the team.

This step includes getting each team member to publicly agree to complete his or her tasks by the allotted deadline. Making a public declaration solidifies our accountability to meet those expectations. In essence, they accept the tasks they need to accomplish in order to confirm their expertise.

Step 4: Remove barriers to success. Publicly ask each stakeholder how you can remove any barriers to their success. As the leader, you are responsible for providing “air cover” and creating an environment conducive to high performance. You are not the doer; you are the enabler.

Offering to remove barriers also removes any excuses.

Step 5: Provide recognition. Recognize stakeholders’ contributions publicly and thank them for their efforts. Do this as early and often as you can. You want to show the team that they have your support and that you recognize their achievements. Promote their success with their boss and anyone else who will listen.

We all want to work for a supportive leader. Acknowledgement is a form of confirmation that the team member has lived up to their expectations. It reinforces positive behavior.

Here is an added benefit: No one likes a braggart, but everyone likes a gracious leader who consistently promotes the accomplishments of others. By recognizing a team member’s achievements, you are really boasting of the team’s success… your team’s success. It is a positive form of self-promotion where everyone wins.

By now you have found the secret: performing each step publicly. This is a form of transparency. When employees say they want more transparency out of their leaders, this is what they mean. It is a more open and honest approach to communication. Your team members will know where they stand and feel compelled to meet the expectations that you set. They want you to follow these steps publicly. They want you to lead.

Now that you know the secret, go lead a high-performing team. And tell us all about their accomplishments!


I can help you with persuasion tactics to ensure success (or at the very least compliance). Contact me today at

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