We’ve all been part of teams or relationships which were really motivating. Some groups just really “cook” and accomplish more than anyone expected. Some teams even reach the point where the ideas are flowing so fast and furious that it seems they are thinking with one mind. Your most important goal as a facilitator is to help your groups reach this point. How do people become inspired to work together and think and innovate together? Some contend you can’t motivate people. Instead they speak of engagement or inspiration. Whatever you want to call it, inspired and committed groups of people are the only way new social or economic enterprises have ever been created. Some resources to help your groups are shown in the graphic below.
A first step in developing motivated teams is helping people overcome a lack of motivation to do anything–which, if intense enough, becomes depression. The best model we have of this phenomenon is learned helplessness. People often get the idea that nothing they do matters. But, we can escape from this depression or pessimism into learned optimism.
The way out, however, is counterintuitive. The way to help others out of “doing nothing” is to “do nothing.” If you come in with a plan and a program which you are convinced will solve all their problems, you are taking on the role of actor and do-er. That is the role you want to encourage in others. So you initially do nothing — except look for commitment to an idea. When you see that, you fan the flame. As the flame and the group gains intensity and it picks up speed, you run right along side and keep encouraging the commitment.
With some groups, you have to root out a basic assumption which is fertile ground for learned helplessness. This is the assumption that past experiences or other powerful factors limit or even determine the future. The successful facilitator doesn’t usually challenge such a powerful assumption head on. You do promote a more basic assumption: that our actions today, whatever their cause, shape the future. This focus on the here-and-now keeps our groups from dwelling in the past or worrying or dreaming about the future. We focus on what we can do in the present to achieve our goals.
Helping members of your group overcome learned helplessness is just a first step toward teams which are really cooking. The facilitator must understand the basic needs or motivating forces in his group to help the group stay on track. All MBA and psychology students learn Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In most situations, we must satisfy basic physiological and safety needs before needs in belonging, esteem and self-actualiztion become motivators.
What is much less often taught is that curiosity, the need for novel stimuli (i.e. play) and altruism can be more powerful than basic physiological or safety needs. The systems facilitator knows and calls upon these drives as he helps the group become engaged and motivated.
The most basic social motivator is the desire to help those who are like you and who you know well. The most obvious way this is manifested is in a willingness to act altruistically toward members of your ethnic group (see Salter’s 2008 review). However, the facilitator can stimulate the more universal form of this motivation by helping people see their commonalities and helping them help each other. This leads to the most basic foundation for a successful group: trust. Beyond basic knowledge of these motivations, more subtle interpersonal differences in these drives (such as differences between the sexes in altruism) can be useful for the facilitator.
Stimulating these drives is one means of keeping the group from slipping into complacency. There are a number of other resources available for those interested in inspiring, engaging and motivating teams:
Learning the skill of motivating teams is just one aspect of learning to transform systems. Look into the other areas:
- Learning Systems and Systems Learning
- Conceptual Pluralism
- Communication Beyond Words
- Evoking Integration and innovation
- Holistic Decision-Making
Facilitating groups is a holistic process. Each of the above “skills” is one view of the process. If you’re ready, get into the process itself.
The quickest way to develop skills in systems facilitation is to find someone who is successful in helping groups create new systems and learn from them.