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Eight ways to set your team up for great results in 2024
Picture of Simon Thiessen

Simon Thiessen

CEO, Culture Consultant, Facilitator

This article was personally written by Simon Thiessen based on over 30 years experience with leadership and workplace culture

When people return to work after a break, there are two, and sometimes three, reasons that are driving them to come back.

  1. They are compelled to because their approved period of leave has ended, and simply not turning up for work is just not an OK thing to do (for most people)
  2. They need to because they don’t have the financial independence to pay the mortgage or rent, put food on the table, and fund their lifestyle without the income

    These two reasons apply in every workplace. From a leadership perspective, they are terrible reasons for people to be coming to work. They add nothing to the workplace experience of team members, the cohesiveness and productivity of the team, or the overall results.
    They are about attendance rather than performance. Which brings us to the third reason.

  3. They want to


This absolutely does not apply to every workplace. Many managers can’t understand why they only get adequate levels of performance, engagement, and motivation. After all, people are being paid, aren’t they?

If you are one of those managers, there is a direct link between that thinking and the fact that people don’t really want to be in your workplace.

If you want your people to produce exceptional results in the coming year, you need to create an environment in which they WANT TO come to work. Before you decide I am delusional and stop reading, let me be clear. I love my work, but if you offered me a week on a tropical island with my family, I’m going to take. Just because I love doing other things doesn’t mean I don’t also like work. In fact, if your people resent work because it stops them doing the things they love, it’s because they hate work. In what universe can we realistically expect that to lead to high performance?

With that rant out of the way, here are eight tips that will help you, the leader, ensure work is one of the things people like in their lives.

Understand why people work

If your instant response to that was, ‘for the money’, go straight to jail, do not pass GO, do not collect $200. Did you even read the introduction?

People do work because they need an income, that is true. But that is only one of many reasons. Money does nothing more than buy attendance.

It’s the other motivations for working that drive high performance, motivation, and engagement … or create resentment, apathy, and mediocrity. Which you get depends on whether those motivations can be met in your workplace, which depends a lot on leadership.

So, what are the other motivations? What else do people expect from their work? Well, what do you expect from your work? I bet some of the following resonate for you:
• Being part of a positive and productive team
• Doing something that is worthwhile, and that makes a difference
• Feeling connected and included
• Growth and learning
• Having influence over work and outcomes
• Feeling valued, appreciated and respected.

If you don’t believe these things matter, you aren’t a leader. If this isn’t what you see in the people around you, that results from the workplace culture and leadership that people have been exposed to.

If this message resonates with you, you might want to check out this podcast (LINK) we recorded about how people feel about coming to work each Monday morning.

Clear expectations

If you believe this article is all about being nice to people, filling their world with fairy floss and rainbows, think again.

Starting with the premise that the VAST majority of people WANT to do a good job, the number one thing that determines WHETHER or not they do a good job is how well they understand what that looks like.

Leadership reality: almost every person in every team in every workplace is less clear about what is expected of them than their leader believes they are.

That means there is almost always some confusion about what good looks like, in terms of technical performance, interpersonal interactions, and results.

There are two main reasons for this confusion:
• Assumption. Leaders know what they expect and assume that translates to every team member being just as clear
• Inconsistency. Leaders send mixed messages by having variable standards, avoiding awkward conversations, and failing to build accountability. Team members hear leaders say one thing but act in a different way

Ralph Waldo Emerson What you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you are saying

Know what motivates and excites each person


A leader should know a lot about each of the people they lead and it needs to go beyond their children’s names, favourite sporting team or TV show, and their favourite hobby.

Those things are nice, part of the fabric of a healthy workplace relationship. But they aren’t enough.

Do you know what is motivating and exciting for each individual in your team? If you don’t, how can you possibly build those things into their workplace experience? And how can you then be frustrated when people are apathetic about their work?

Is it easy to satisfy each person’s individual motivations? Of course it isn’t, but why would we even expect that? Good leaders work at those things rather than just blindly following processes and routines. As a result, they know which team members love to be challenged and who likes predictability, who is desperate to learn new things and who is highly competitive, who likes quiet appreciation and who responds to a standing ovation, who is ambitious and who loves to help others.

Once a leader recognises individual motivations, with a bit of effort, creativity and willingness to challenge the norm, they build those things into the workplace experience and reap the rewards of motivated team members.

Engage team members in WHY

If there is no purpose to the work someone does, it doesn’t matter whether or not they do it well. Let’s be clear. Doing it because it needs to be done is a burden not a purpose. That tells me why it needs to be done to avoid a negative consequence, but it gives me no positive reason to excel.

Here’s an example. I am writing this article on my first day back at work. WHY? Because we have a publishing schedule and my colleague expects me to do it and because it’s one of the allocated tasks I am being paid to do today and … Bugger that! I am already bored, uninspired, and trolling through my emails and task list to see if there is something easier that will help me create the illusion of productivity!

No, the real WHY is that I know how much difference this sort of article can make to open-minded leaders, how they will use the information to improve the workplace experience of their team, and how that will flow through to results for their organisations. The real WHY is because people deserve great workplaces and because workplaces deserve great people (that is actually our team’s WHY, what some organisations call a purpose or mission). That’s why I, and the rest of our team, get out of bed and come to work each day. If that doesn’t inspire you, that’s OK. You don’t have to work here.

But what’s the WHY that will inspire your people to bring their best selves to work each day? Are they doing work because it needs to be done, or because of the broader context that makes that work important and meaningful?

Understand the barriers to high performance

A manager allocates tasks to people. A leader facilitates high performance. The difference is about understanding the things that get in the way of doing a great job.

Think about your own work. Are there times that you feel you are battling systems, processes, people, your manager … and that all those battles are taking energy away from just getting the job done?

Why would it be different for your people? Here are some things you could look out for (and talk to your team about):
• Do they have the resources they need and that you can reasonably provide?
• Can you eliminate distractions and address competing demands?
• Are there policies and systems that inhibit performance without adding value?
• What workplace dynamics and office politics are they encountering?
• Are they receiving the support they need from within the team and from other teams?

When you think you are giving enough feedback, give a bit more

Most managers believe they give enough feedback. There’s a 99.9% chance they are wrong.

The baffling thing is that feedback is a free hit. Unlike the physical resources and budgets that your team wants, feedback costs nothing. It’s just about forming a habit.

Go back to the list of things that motivate people to come to work. Feedback is central to a lot of them. It lets people know they are doing good work and that they are making a difference. It provides appreciation and recognition. And it builds accountability when people aren’t on track, which is critical. In workplaces with low accountability, no-one genuinely feels that they are achieving much.

Lead people the way they need to be led

This is not the same as leading people the way you like to lead which involves imposing a default style on everyone and wondering why some of them don’t respond. If you are a manager who likes to control things, and you have a team member who likes the space to use their initiative, your default style will be terminal for their motivation and performance. If you lead them with your default style, that is about your need, not theirs, and you are ultimately responsible for their mediocre performance.

There’s also a difference between leading people the way they WANT to be led and leading them the way they NEED to be led. If someone wants you to show a lot of trust in them, but their performance isn’t at the required level, you need to use a high accountability approach regardless of whether that’s what they, or you, like.

If someone wants you to make all the decisions and spell out everything, you may decide to encourage them to be more self-sufficient, even though that isn’t the leadership style they WANT from you.

What’s the best way to understand the leadership style they NEED? Observation and trial-and-error work well, but why not just ask them? What can I do as the leader to help you get the best results? What approach can I take that will work best for you? This could also be an opportunity to explain to them why you have chosen the style you have (assuming you aren’t just in default mode!)

Create teams that people want to be a part of

Some teams inspire people to new heights, while others make them want to curl up in a ball and hope the time goes quickly.

What sort of team do you lead? How does your leadership impact that? As uncomfortable as it can be, genuine leaders guide team dynamics by having clear expectations about the way the team interacts, and by getting involved when those expectations are not me.

How explicit have you been in discussions with the team about the team culture? Or do you spend all your time focusing on tasks and logistics? Do people feel safe to raise issues and a responsibility to address them? Do you model the team culture you would like to create, and are you willing to facilitate people solving issues when they get stuck?

When people don’t seem excited to be at work, lazy managers wonder at their poor values, work ethic, and attitude. Inspired leaders focus on what they, the leader, could do to create a workplace experience people want to be a part of.

If you need more strategies, look out for our free Plenty in 20 series of webinars, and especially for the next one that addresses leading passive aggressive behaviour.