18. A drive to belong as motivation
There are many types of motivation for your team. A desire to serve can motivate people to persevere until a customer is satisfied and their pain is gone. The compelling force of fun can keep people happily engaged for the long term. But the most powerful motivator of all may be the desire for connection.
Most of us know instinctively that we are better, stronger, and more capable when we’re not alone. When we’re lucky enough to work as part of a cohesive group towards a common goal, we experience the best of ourselves being called out. Our power to serve others and ourselves, and to have fun doing it, is enhanced and amplified by our connection to the group.
When a good strong team is guided and monitored with the right touch, it can become both benevolently powerful and insanely productive. The experience of unity and accomplishment becomes a powerful force. A force that draws its members in, embraces them, and says, “go!”
Group culture tends to emerge and evolve over time. It can be shaped to an extent by a strong leader or contextual norms, but for the most part, culture emerges from within the group, from shared priorities and values. A common mission can unite a group into a team, providing it with direction and purpose. The increased strength they feel as a cohesive unit brings a sense of amplified power that appeals deeply to most people. This experience of power is part of what manifests as culture, and the collective identity of the group as a unit binds the individuals to each other and their larger purpose. They belong.
The potent binding force of belonging, when properly channeled and allowed to move freely, can result in a team whose work flows fluidly, gracefully, powerfully, and meaningfully, for the individuals involved.
This culture of shared values that binds the team together must be cultivated and supported though. Some time ago, with the intent of keeping our company’s pipeline full, I accepted a new client with very little vetting and review. The client organization was well-funded, and had a clear religious orientation which I noticed but didn’t judge. I didn’t explore the organization’s mission, just the potential fun of the technical problem to be solved and the solid finances of the organization. I didn't bother to dig deeper and check for a cultural fit. Shortly after bringing the client onboard, I needed the help of another team member. I provided all of the project information to them, and they immediately responded by asking me what I was doing with this client. I asked what they meant, and they drew my attention to some of the articles on the site. The website was actually a lobbying and persuasion resource for an extremely controversial cause, one that was not in alignment with our company’s values. I was truly embarrassed to have missed this, to realize how deeply I had violated my own team's value commitments. I had to release the client. Had we retained them, my team would have been upset. The culture would have been disrupted. I would have dishonored the team.
Many times the key to someone’s feeling of belonging to a group can be clarity about who does not belong, as well as who does. This can and should be a neutral observation, in a healthy situation. It's not a judgment about “us” and “them” or the value of any individual. It's a clarification and validation of who you are and who you are not. When you are able to acknowledge and share who you are (and are not) with others, and they share a similar awareness of themselves, something happens. Commonality emerges, an expression of mutual values and goals. And on the job, when those commonalities include work values, a powerful team workforce emerges.
When you think about a team as a living organism or an ecosystem, there are specific roles and responsibilities that each member fills. An efficiently running team is an efficient ecosystem. The ecosystem functions well over time when members fill their roles consistently and well. Having a strong sense of shared purpose and interdependency binds each individual to the team as a whole, and the positive energy embodied by this energized team creates a sustainable and dynamically cohesive unit that draws other people in. The result is exponential creativity and efficiency, the true power of the team. The energy of the individuals is amplified. Everyone’s efforts are scaled up and expanded. The individuals that are a part of the ecosystem are more likely to work smart (not just hard), and to use their energy mindfully to best support the group’s goals.
This committed team and healthy ecosystem affirms and energizes the individuals in it, and satisfies their innate human need to belong. That drive to connect and belong to something larger than oneself is validated and fulfilled when the belonging increases each individual’s effectiveness, power and reach. Excellence results from this belonging. And excellent work is a reward both for the client and the team doing the work. This reward becomes the motivation for the team and the individuals in it to stick together and continue their good work.
And this is how the drive to belong can result in strong motivation for your team. As long as the health of the team is maintained, as they remain engaged in their common mission, excellence will continue to result and the team members will generate their own ongoing source of motivation through their success.