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How a tent zip can help you to build motivation in your team

June 13, 2022

What if we told you that a simple tent zip analogy had the potential to lead your team to more motivated times? This little analogy cropped up in a conversation between Dan and Andy in our Sydney office the other week and gave us a novel way into talking about motivation.

We know there are scores of theories and articles dedicated to the subject, and we review them regularly to help shape our thinking, but motivation remains elusive for many. So, if motivation has taken a hit where you are and it needs a mid-year boost, read on and we’ll share four thoughts on how you can help your team find their mojo again, and we’ll start with Andy’s tent zip.

1. The tent zipper analogy: find the common ground and connect

Picture an old-school tent with a zip running from the top to the bottom. You need the zip to run smoothly bringing the two-sides together. But they don’t, the two-sides don’t line up. What do you do? Do you grab the two pieces of fabric and force them together? Or do you stop, take a breath and go back up to the top of the zip where the two sides meet more easily and slowly bring the two sides together, tooth by tooth.

The trick with a stubborn zip is to go high enough to the point where the two-sides naturally meet. And then gently, tooth by tooth, stitch by stitch join the two sides. It’s the same with your team.

Because these meatier conversations aren’t always easy, it doesn’t work to force them. Sometimes you have to work hard to find that sweet spot, the common ground where personal values meet the team or organisation purpose. It’s not that unusual for people to feel disconnected and uncertain about how they fit into the big picture and that impacts energy and motivation levels.

But if the team can find that common ground and make the connection between their personal values, ambition and the bigger picture, we know they’ll feel more motivated and engaged.

Listen to Andy explain the tent zip analogy here

Good leadership is creating space for good conversations to help people to connect with the purpose. You need to help your team find common ground so that you can build on it.
Purpose and connection are crucial.
Dan Meek, CEO

2. Get clear on your team’s purpose and you’ll find the personal connection

Having a clear purpose that your team has co-created is the bedrock of a high performing, connected, motivated team. It’s important that everyone feels comfortable sharing how they feel about the direction the team is heading in. It’s not about the leader doing it but creating the space for the team to have that conversation. We often turn to our Clarity on a page (COAP) framework to steer conversations that dig into purpose, vision and values.

3. Talk and listen to your team

We ran a programme once where a business leader had two people in their team who weren’t happy: one colleague was doing a very process level repetitive job, the other had a job that was more creative. During a conversation it became clear that they were doing things that they didn’t enjoy and there was an opportunity to swap things around to make it work for the individuals and the team.

We share this one small example to make a bigger point. We know that the answer isn’t always a simple job swap, but sometimes it is. Sometimes it is just taking the time to sit with your team and have a discussion that doesn’t revolve around the task list. In this case, the change came about because the leader created a safe place. Team members trusted the team leader to listen to them and be open to change. And by having the conversation, the whole team learned things about each other that they didn’t know before. That can only be a good thing, surely?

The point is that you need to understand what drives people. You need to really know what their ‘what’s in it for me’ is and you can’t just assume you know what they enjoy and don’t enjoy doing. And the only way to do that is to have a conversation where you put your bias and assumptions to one side, are curious and listen.

4. Motivation in an agile world

In agile, innovative teams of teams organisation leaders act as connectors. A crucial part of a leader’s job in this context is to provide clarity on the team’s reason for being, because a dynamic environment needs employees who can come together quickly and work towards a common goal. Leaders can help their team do this by focusing on creating the right environment or conditions for success:

• Clarity: is the team clear about what it’s trying to achieve and why?
• Climate: has the team identified what the hard climate, like resources, systems, structure and process and ‘soft’ climate including culture and stakeholder relationships should look like?
• Competence: does the team have the right leadership skills, knowledge, behaviour and attitude in place to deliver optimum performance?

Motivation: think purpose, connection and tent zips

The big message here is to prioritise team conversations. It sounds like an overly simple answer to a complex problem, but we’ve been in the room when these purpose-driven conversations have taken place, and we’ve felt the energy dial up a notch. We’ve seen people get excited because they can now see a future that they want to be a part of.

So, if you want teams that are buzzing with confident determination, where colleagues take the initiative and challenge the way things are done in order to see projects through to a successful close, book in time to talk to them now. Make time to listen to each other and explore what really drives people. And if in doubt, remember that tent zip.

Contact us to find out how we can help give your team a motivational boost.

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