Often, when a senior stakeholder in an organization gives me a brief on the learning objectives for a workshop, the statement goes something like this:
"The team needs to be motivated. These people are all highly competent, but somehow are not committed to the team's or organization's goals and objectives. They prefer to work in silos. There seems to be a lack of trust and open communication."
In his remarkable book, "The Truth About Managing People", Stephen P Robbins, well known management teacher and writer, by virtue of years of experience and research makes a very clear and heavily loaded statement:
"I often hear experienced managers complain that "people just aren't motivated to work anymore." If this is true, the fault is with managers and organizational practices, not the employees! When employees lack motivation, the problem almost always lies in one of five areas: selection, ambiguous goals, the performance appraisal system, the organization's reward system, or the manager's inability to shape employee's perception of the appraisal and reward systems."
Going by the "CorporateTheatre" experience of having worked with hundreds of organizations from all kinds of backgrounds, I think that this brilliant statement by Prof. Robbins covers a great part of what we need to focus on in terms of motivating employees, energizing teams, and creating successful organizations.
The most significant insight is that organizational culture, or the work environment, always cascades from the top down. Motivated, passionate leaders enable the environment for motivated and passionate employees. Cross-functional collaboration at the level of top leadership facilitates cross-functional collaboration down the line. Very often I have found that when senior leadership and heads of functions do not take ownership of a shared goal and a collective success, it is impossible to expect collaboration across their teams.
Another major insight is that, if I am in a position of senior leadership and there is a problem in my organization or team, I have to first accept that I am part of the problem. Unless I am willing to do that, neither can I see the problem nor the solution objectively. Almost inevitably, when the brief from a leader is something like, "My team needs to be energized. They are a laid back, indifferent, demotivated bunch", I have found that the problem is not with the team, but with the leadership. When the leader comes across as self-centred, insensitive, unethical, or indifferent, even people who would otherwise be good performers, fail to deliver.
A third learning is the role of appraisals and rewards. As Prof. Robbins says elsewhere in the same book, managers ask for teamwork but design appraisal systems that rate and reward individual performance. People deliver what they are rewarded for. If we want teamwork, our appraisal and reward systems need to prioritize team work and team spirit over individual performance. As is behaviourally and consistently reinforced during the course of "CorporateTheatre" workshops, it is practically possible to demand the highest levels of team spirit and team performance and at the same time recognize and phenomenally reward individual contribution and brilliance. Star performance never goes unrecognized or unrewarded.
Most important of all, (and this has been repeatedly reinforced by exhaustive research by Jon Kastenbach and Douglas Smith in their landmark book, "The Wisdom of Teams"), a group of people become a team only when they are clear about a common goal and aligned to a collective success. Once the defined goal has been accomplished they are no longer a team until the next goal is defined and alignment obtained. And as stated by Prof. Robbins, people find it easier to align to a goal which they have been involved in defining.
More interestingly, motivated employees do not want soft options. The tougher the goal, the better the performance.
"CorporateTheatre" workshops tap these instinctive possibilities at the level of core human behaviour. What is immensely satisfying and convincing is that no matter where the participants are from in terms of industry, hierarchy, nationality, or culture, the behaviour, the learning, and the sharing is almost exactly the same. At the level of basic human behaviour there is truth as well as immense power and possibilities.