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Empower Your Team with Intrinsic Motivation

leadership transition Oct 04, 2023
happy female professional

- By Sophie Pinkoski

As we embrace alternative options to incorporate each individual's needs, it’s becoming clearer than ever that there is no single definitive way to approach completing tasks. This discussion escalated with remote work and then the shift toward hybrid workplaces in recent years. From this transition, we have learned there is a variety of ways people can choose to work, depending on what suits their lifestyle best. Part of this success is appealing to what motivates them most. It might seem easiest to motivate your team with external rewards such as compensation, rewards, and promotions, but many people have deeper motivators that drive them.

Intrinsic motivation speaks to a person's sense of purpose and personal growth.

Encourage your team members to discover their genuine interest, fulfillment, and meaning in their daily tasks. When they do, they'll be eager to work towards achieving their best results.

Because people’s backgrounds and personalities vary, no one is going to be motivated in the same way. It’s therefore important to consider what perspective each of your team members has on their career paths. They may be motivated by any manner of things, such as accomplishment, power, or networks, to name a few.

Leading in a humanistic way gives your team the psychological safety and emotional intelligence they need to take on their roles with confidence.

But how can we get them there in the first place?

Here are three key aspects of intrinsic motivation you can focus on with your team:

Autonomy –– First and foremost, your team members have to want to do their work. This involves creating freedom in how they approach the expectations of their roles. Even straightforward tasks can be approached from an angle that appeals to their individual skills and passions.

The key here is to give them the choice to do each task in a way that aligns with both their preferred approach and the required standards and processes.

Keep an open mind and be prepared to work with your team members to keep their approach to work aligned with their sense of independence.

Mastery –– Not only must tasks be interesting, but they should also challenge your team. Encourage team members to strive for excellence in all they do. How can they complete their work with high quality, faster, or with more impact? Let them experiment to drive engagement. 

Striving for mastery allows individuals to use and develop their skills, which in turn, makes them feel more confident in their work.

When they have opportunities for growth, they can get a better sense of momentum in their own careers and personal goals. This ultimately leads to a more fulfilling work experience.

Purpose –– Finally, it is important to instill meaning and purpose into everything your team does. There’s a reason mission, vision, and values are so crucial to any organization. A clarity of vision helps your team get a better sense of how each small task they take on fits into the bigger picture of what the organization trying to accomplish. In fact, one study has found that making obvious progress on meaningful work is the biggest motivator for creative knowledge workers.

When you can split your team members’ projects into smaller, attainable goals, they are able to stack up easy wins towards a bigger purpose.

This way, they see they are making progress toward something important, and when that happens, they are much happier and satisfied in their role. The social component is also a factor. Prosocial motivation allows individuals to see how their work is influencing the outside world.

The more people they see who have been positively impacted by their work, the more enthusiastic they will be to do each task leading up to it.

It’s not enough to motivate your team with external drivers alone. They have to find autonomy, mastery, and purpose in their work. These core elements speak to the true value of their roles, especially when they can see how their work impacts the outside world. This leads to happier, more engaged individuals, who are more dedicated toward realizing their organization’s goals.

When team members are given the freedom to choose how to do their work, they gain the confidence to become more productive, creative, and innovative with their contributions.

These intrinsic motivations let them be the best they can be in the work they know they do best.


Further Reading

Pink, Daniel H. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Penguin Publishing Group: 2011.

Ryan, Richard M & Deci, Edward L. Self-Determination Theory: Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development, and Wellness, Guilford Press: 2017.

Handbook of Competence and Motivation. ed. Andrew J. Elliot, Carol S. Dweck, and David S. Yeager, Guilford Press: 2017

5 Motivation Theories To Use in the Workplace (With Tips), Indeed

Using Motivation Theory to Inspire Your Team’s Best Work, Atlassan

4 Motivation Theories to Use in the Workplace, Hourly Inc.

How to Apply Motivational Theories in the Workplace, Chron

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation: How to Drive People to Do Amazing Work, Wrike

Intrinsic Motivation: The Missing Piece in Changing Employe Behaviour, IMD

Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Motivation at Work, Psychology Today

Understanding the Power of Intrinsic Motivation, Harvard Business Review

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