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What is team motivation?
Work Management
Last modified date

Feb 22, 2024

Theory and Research behind Team Motivation

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Vanessa Friedman

Blog average read time

9 min

Last modified date

February 22, 2024

The bad employee is a mythical creature invented to explain problems. Every person is a potentially productive employee who works under existing labor relations. If the results of his or her work are poor, it means that this “sluggish” employment is just good enough and satisfies his or her needs just enough.

After all, humans, as biological beings, will always act optimally to get the maximum material and moral benefit from it. That is why the art of redirecting an employee’s personal optimality to the company’s needs is essential to achieving goals. And the best assistant in this is team motivation.

What is team motivation?

Imagine (or remember) that you are the head of an organization. You have a team (or several teams) in your care to help develop your business and achieve your goals together.

How do you see your staff’s ideal workflow? You probably want your employees to give their best, minimize procrastination in the workplace, and always strive to do more than stated in their employment contract.

What can be the lever for such actions? The answer is simple: motivation. Besides money, it implies some kind of internal stimulus that moves each employee toward the ideal picture of the work process.

That is, team motivation is a direction in personnel management that is responsible for creating some kind of incentive for each employee in the corporate culture.

This is how it looked in management practice not so long ago: diligent colleagues were praised and financially rewarded, while poor performers were administratively punished.

But let’s not forget that the science of personnel management is constantly evolving and is tightly connected with the worldview of modern people. If you act according to this outdated scheme, a substantial turnover will begin sooner or later.

How? By building the right motivational strategy for your team.

How does team motivation affect labor productivity?

A well-functioning and well-coordinated team is the key to the success of every enterprise. To access it, you must consider several managerial points, among which motivation is almost central.

Why is it so important if, it would seem, it is enough to pay people well, and they will work effectively? The answer is in basic human psychology. If people work only for a salary, they will burn out sooner or later.

The two main drivers of their work input should be (1) growth and (2) job satisfaction.

If the employee is willing to put in an effort to succeed at work—for the love of personal growth and personal satisfaction—then he/she will invariably be more productive.

What’s more, employees who take note of the management’s respectful and caring attitude and interest in them will strive to meet expectations and improve the quality of the work.

A motivation system that’s implemented well will increase employee productivity on a small scale, which will multiply and impact the company globally by enhancing team productivity and well-oiled divisions and departments.

Better yet, it also reduces staff turnover and helps to build healthy and respectful relationships in the team, leading to an increase in the company’s economic performance and its competitiveness in the market.

Types of team motivation

If you have not yet delved into building team motivation, you are waiting for a fascinating and long journey into a whole ocean of knowledge. But in this article, I will walk only along the shore and tell you the most important things you need to know.

All modern concepts of personnel motivation are based on four fundamental theories based on human needs.

1. Frederick Herzberg’s theory

Herzberg’s Two-Factor theory of motivation focuses on two distinct sets of factors influencing employee job satisfaction and dissatisfaction: motivators and hygiene factors.

Motivators, which drive job satisfaction, include elements such as achievement, recognition, responsibility, and growth opportunities.

On the other hand, hygiene factors, which prevent job dissatisfaction, consist of items like wages, working conditions, and relationships with colleagues.

Unlike traditional models that suggest improving hygiene factors alone will boost motivation, Herzberg posits that addressing hygiene factors will merely reduce dissatisfaction while enhancing motivators will foster true job satisfaction.

Herzberg’s theory assumes that company efficiency depends on external and internal conditions. In short, providing employees with comfortable working conditions (externally) and stimulating a sense of job satisfaction (internally) work synergistically.

2. Frederick Winslow Taylor’s theory

Taylor’s theory of motivation, known as “The Principles of Scientific Management,” postulates efficiency and productivity in the workplace are primarily motivated by money. Taylor believed managers should exercise close control over employees to ensure they were getting their money’s worth – this was posited in 1911, so research has evolved since.

Taylor’s theory focused on breaking down complex jobs into smaller, more manageable tasks, using scientific methods to find the most efficient way to perform each task, and paying workers based on their productivity:

  • Setting clear rules for the performance of job duties
  • Pay is correlated to the number of working hours or performance
  • There is a minimum degree of pressure on employees

Plus, coworkers should feel some competition and even excitement at work.

3. David McClelland’s theory

David McClelland’s theory of motivation proposes that individuals are driven by three primary needs: achievement, affiliation, and power.

Achievement-driven individuals strive for success and improvement, while affiliation-driven individuals prioritize social connections and acceptance. Those motivated by power seek influence and authority over others.

McClelland’s theory differs from Herzberg’s in that it focuses specifically on intrinsic motivators rather than extrinsic factors affecting job satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

The whole team can be divided into three conditional groups, for which separate employee satisfaction methods are selected.

4. Abraham Maslow’s theory

Maslow’s theory of human needs, known as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, is a motivational theory developed by psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1943. The theory arranges human needs into a five-tiered hierarchy, starting with physiological needs (like food, water, and sleep) and culminating in self-actualization—the realization of one’s full potential. Between these extremes lie safety needs (protection from danger), love and belongingness needs (social connections), and esteem needs (respect and recognition).

The hierarchy emphasizes that lower-level needs must be met before individuals can fully engage with higher-level needs. However, contemporary research has challenged this strict sequential order, suggesting that people can pursue higher-level needs alongside unmet lower-level needs.

Methods of team motivation

With such an extensive theoretical base, specialists divide its methods into two types – material and non-material.

Material incentives

Material (or economic) incentives are not just bonuses or salary bonuses. It includes a vast range of possible methods. The most popular ones are:

  • Payment of health insurance, gym membership, and sick pay
  • Travel compensation to the place of work or provision of corporate transportation
  • Additional vacation days at the expense of the organization (in case of a valid reason)
  • Monetary allowances in case of emergency and on birthdays

Along with this, good results are shown by the introduction of non-monetary methods, which at the same time affect the economic condition of employees. For example:

  • Free vouchers for recreational facilities
  • Free and quick medical examination once a year

Also, we must remember flexible work schedules, reduced days on holidays, and payment for corporate events at the organization’s expense.

Non-material incentives

Methods of non-material incentives are much more. Here, everything depends on the context of human relations in the team, especially between the boss and subordinates. I recommend the following:

PTO and joint leisure time

It is a critical moment not only in team building but also in the motivation of each employee. It’s taking team-building activities and social bonding time to the next level.

I think hiking trips are one of the most exciting joint leisure ideas. It screams “epic adventure” made possible by a great company.

Depending on your country, these are some of the best trekking routes – Dolomites Alta via 1 (Italy), Great Glen Way (Scotland), Hadrian’s Wall Path (England), Camino de Santiago (Basque Country, Spain, Portugal), Malerweg (Switzerland), Beara Way (Ireland), Laugavegur Trail (Iceland), etc. There’s also the Inca Trail (Peru), Kalalau Trail (Hawaii), and the Pacific Crest Trail (USA), to name a few more.

There are dozens of destinations and trekking tours. I could make the case for joint leisure time for hours. But, in a nutshell, outdoor activities allow the team to relax and spend time together for team building.

Employee recognition

Employee recognition is an important aspect of boosting team morale and motivation. Meaningful employee recognition programs can include specific and relevant recognition tied to a particular accomplishment or business objective, timely recognition that arrives promptly after the fact, and recognition that is tailored to the individual’s preferences.

Other effective recognition strategies include publicly praising employees for achievements, hosting events to show appreciation, and recognizing employees on social media. Make employee recognition a priority and have formal recognition systems to ensure recognition is genuine and visible.

By creating a culture of recognition, organizations can increase employee happiness, engagement, and productivity

Career advancement opportunities

Take a personal interest in each employee’s career goals and support their professional development. This can be achieved by promoting training and development, encouraging mentoring and job shadowing, and creating a succession planning program.

Additionally, it’s important to help employees set realistic goals, encourage them to take risks and celebrate their successes along the way. By providing visible career pathways, delivering rich feedback and coaching, and offering opportunities to learn and practice, employers can help employees advance their careers and stay motivated

Disciplinary action

There is also another method that must be addressed – penalties and sanctions. Discipline is necessary to correct bad behavior and ensure that employees follow company policies and procedures.

Disciplinary actions must be episodic and preventive; otherwise, permanent fear will settle in the team. However, any reason for punishment should be strictly prescribed and confirmed.

It’s important to strike a balance between discipline and motivation. Over-reliance on disciplinary measures can lead to a negative work environment and decreased motivation. In contrast, over-reliance on motivational techniques can lead to a lack of accountability and decreased respect for leadership.

So, managers need to provide both discipline and motivation to lead a team successfully. By combining motivational techniques and disciplinary measures, managers can create a balance of rewards and corrective actions that drive a team to perform better

Team motivation as an element of company culture

From all things considered above, there is an obvious conclusion: corporate culture is just that element of the organizational process responsible for meeting the needs of the company’s employees and, consequently, the growth of their motivation.

Researchers are actively working with the theory that emerged in the 1980s in America. It is based on the idea that a person goes to work for six reasons: purpose, potential, play, economic pressure, emotional pressure, and inertia. The first three reasons are the engine of a person’s professional progress, precisely the reasons cultivated by corporate culture. Let’s elaborate on these a bit more:

  • Purpose. Every employee should see the result of their labor and how it reflects on the entire company’s work. For this purpose, it is worth emphasizing the goals of individual employees and teams more often and taking care of visual demonstrations of their performance.
  • Play. The work process itself should become a motivator. There should be an element of excitement and challenge in it. A person should like what he or she is doing. Take a closer look; suddenly, some of your colleagues have long surpassed their position or are inclined to do other activities. It is worth working with this and helping people find their own.
  • Potential. As Maslow said, everyone’s highest need is self-improvement. This is also worth working with, helping your colleagues grow professionally and opening new opportunities for them.

These are the so-called direct human motivations. A strong corporate culture should emphasize them to dampen the other 3 (indirect) motives. That is, to reduce the emotional pressure on the employee, shift the focus from earning as much as possible to professional growth, and prevent the state of inertia and passivity.

What to consider when motivating your team?

So, what should a manager or boss responsible for motivating employees do? Alas, there is no single correct recipe for creating a motivation system suitable for your company.

Everything depends on the format of your organization, the peculiarities of working relations between employees, corporate culture, and the global goal of the whole enterprise. But there are a few universal principles that should be taken into account when creating the foundation of a motivational scheme:

  • Don’t be stingy with praise. Each of the employees should feel their importance and need in the company. Let it even be a trainee assistant who sorts out your mail and brings coffee at this stage. Convince him or her that this work is important to you and that he or she is the perfect employee. Remember: in a huge mechanism, every cog is essential and how good it is.
  • Encouragements should be situational, not systematic. If you give a bonus or organize a corporate holiday at the end of each month, they will quickly get used to it and take it for granted. Effective incentives that increase motivation are always situational and unpredictable. Suppose the team has successfully completed a project or one of the employees has completed a strategically important task. In that case, you can give a bonus or a corporate bonus (for example, a day off).
  • Every action or situation should be responded to immediately. This is much easier in small companies: the boss constantly communicates with the entire team and is aware of current events. In large organizations, the most knowledgeable are the managers. In any case, it is essential to show your indifference. This way, your colleagues will feel the importance and transparency of actions.

I recommend you analyze your company, create hypotheses, and test them by measuring your team’s motivation.


Motivation is a fundamental component of the successful work of any team. Working with it allows you to increase the efficiency and productivity of both the individual employee and the whole company in general.

In the hands of the manager, there are a lot of techniques for motivation, the basics of which we have dealt with in this article. You must combine material and non-material ways, listen to the company’s organism, and not forget that the main thing you work with is people and their needs.

Oh, and should you need a project management tool for scheduling and resource management, get Paymo on a free trial.

Vanessa Friedman


Vanessa Friedman is a content marketing professional who helps companies attract visitors, convert leads, and close customers. Previously, Vanessa worked as a marketing manager for a tech software startup company.

Alexandra Martin


Drawing from a background in cognitive linguistics and armed with 10+ years of content writing experience, Alexandra Martin combines her expertise with a newfound interest in productivity and project management. In her spare time, she dabbles in all things creative.

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