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How to Motivate Distracted or Disengaged Team Members

Motivation

31 August, 2020

Lloyd Holman, Head of Engineering at By Miles, shares some of the techniques and approaches he uses to help his team members stay motivated and engaged.

Problem

The everlasting need to continuously deliver features can have an overwhelming effect on engineers who could end up feeling demotivated, disengaged, start to doubt themselves, and even lose confidence. My role as a leader is to bring team members back around again and create an environment that will enable them to their best work and perform at the highest level.
 

Actions taken

I believe that good time-management not only increases productivity and enhances the quality of work but brings people more happiness, the feeling of overall accomplishment, and a healthy work-life balance. I try to encourage my engineers to try different time-management techniques like the Pomodoro technique, Urgent/Important matrix, or Getting things done (GTD). Furthermore, each can be customized to their own liking; for example, Pomodoro technique can be adjusted, and instead of working for 25 minutes and taking a break for 5 minutes, you can extend it to 45 minutes and 15 minutes break. Also, I would encourage my team members to block their calendars for their continuing professional development. It could help them review and reflect on their skills and competencies and plan on how to further improve those.
 

Handing over areas of work to other team members and trusting them to work on it their way can also relieve the monotony and increase engagement along with learning new skills or sharing knowledge. Another helpful approach to break the monotony and routine is switching work context and taking a break from on-call. When coupled with regular days off taken to refresh and rejuvenate it can result in excitement about new -- and not always new -- projects and tasks.
 

I’m personally a huge fan of journaling and would wholeheartedly recommend engineers to try journaling. It could help them get all those thoughts and ideas out of their head, analyze their actions, reflect on their goals and aspirations. Handwritten journaling is a powerful tool that can help them with clearing off their mental clutter, reassess their motivation, and thus boost their productivity.
 

In my efforts to support my team members and help them with their demotivation and disengagement I was greatly inspired by Resilient Management, a book by a management coach and trainer for the tech industry, Lara Hogan. It helped me strengthen my capacities as a leader, particularly in terms of answering questions, asking for constructive feedback on my management approach. To learn more about the team, their motivation and goals I would follow Hogan’s BICEPS values. BICEPS stands for Belonging, Improvement/Progress, Choice, Equality/Fairness, Predictability, and Significance and exemplifies the brain science behind everyday office work and human motivation and can help managers better understand their employees’ needs.
 

Lessons learned

  • Different people act and find motivation in different things. Some need more excitement and variety to stay engaged and on the track, some prefer routine and strict framework. Also, for most people, some days are simply better/worse than others. Something that worked well one day may not the other.
  • Motivation and engagement should be nurtured and encouraged and that requires time and effort on both ends; managers, as well as engineers, should take their fair share of responsibility to foster and enhance them.
  • Eventually, some people will give up struggling to get themselves going and be inspired by their work. Though they would decide to leave, you should make that a positive experience for them and support them all the way.

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