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The great resignation, quiet quitting and now the challenge of bare-minimum Monday evoke imagery from a mind-bending film that portrays a journey through multiple layers of reality and the need to adapt to constant change.

As part of an evolving reality, I was recently standing on the mezzanine with the CEO of a consumer packaged goods company overlooking a sea of ergonomic workstations, quiet zones and huddle spaces. The scene was punctuated by a bird’s-eye view of glass conference rooms with smart boards and a fully stocked kitchen. My client lamented one noticeable absence: people. He asked, “How many more perks were needed to entice their return and ensure genuine engagement?”

Board room with two executives.

The Foundation Of Motivation

Engagement is not merely tied to an employee’s working arrangement; it hinges on the leadership approach used to motivate teams. Renowned organizational psychologist Fredrick Hertzberg presented the two-factor theory of job satisfaction and motivation, which offers valuable insights. He emphasizes the importance of meeting hygiene factors like safe working conditions and positive co-worker relationships, as these are essential to avoid job dissatisfaction. However, true motivation arises from within individuals. Leaders must foster motivation by providing challenging work, growth opportunities and recognition for contributions.

In the hybrid paradigm, understanding individual motivators becomes even more critical. Some team members thrive with the independence of remote work, while others yearn for collaborative energy in the office. Leaders must adopt a personalized approach by engaging in open conversations with team members to comprehend their unique preferences and needs. By aligning incentives and recognition strategies with individual motivators, leaders can inspire their teams to give their best regardless of their work environment.

Optimizing Leadership Practices For Enhanced Productivity

To unlock the potential of remote teams, leaders can optimize their internal practices. Here are key areas to consider:

1. Ignite innovation vs. focusing exclusively on problem-solving.

Emphasize innovative approaches rather than relying solely on problem-solving methods. Encouraging inquisitive input sessions can stimulate creativity and elevate decision quality. For example, when working with clients, we invite team members from various departments to share their creative ideas, regardless of their direct relevance to current challenges. Inspired by a speed dating format, cross-functional team members come together for brief yet intensive exchanges of ideas.

In hybrid work environments, virtual brainstorming sessions and collaborative tools become invaluable assets. By creating an environment that values diverse perspectives and encourages experimentation, leaders fuel innovation and elevate team motivation.

2. Establish deeper organic connections that tap affiliative motivation.

Creating meaningful connections within remote teams goes beyond superficial social events. In a hybrid work setting, leaders can develop “team muscle” by strategically combining team assessments, off-site events and team coaching. The key is to concentrate on ways to build trust. In our own team, we initiate biweekly all-hands meeting with a philosophical question like, “What challenge have you overcome that shaped your character?” or, “What value did you learn early on that remains a cornerstone of who you are today?” or, “What would you do if you won the lottery?” This deliberate approach fosters genuine connections among team members and nurtures a sense of belonging and affiliation. Consequently, this cultivates motivation and enhances team performance.

3. Surprise your team with purposeful challenges.

Inspire collaboration within the team by introducing purposeful challenges. For example, by emulating real-life obstacles and stimulating creative thinking through the technique of collaborative inquiry, a distinctive process focused on asking questions rather than seeking immediate solutions, you can unlock exponential results and infuse the innovation process with fresh energy, ultimately increasing motivation.

Over years of observation, I’ve noticed that many clients tend to swiftly transition from problem identification to solution formulation. However, there’s substantial value in mastering the art of asking questions, as it provides the necessary context for making informed decisions. For instance, when we work with teams, we help teams collectively diagnose an issue solely by creating a framework of questions and then asking pertinent questions to inform the eventual solution. They often find it remarkably efficient in terms of time and effective in terms of outcomes.

In a hybrid work environment, challenges can be designed to encourage interdependencies—that is collaboration across the enterprise that fosters a sense of collective ownership. Virtual hackathons, problem-solving competitions or innovation sprints enable teams to harness their diverse skills to tackle complex problems. Leaders can use these opportunities to recognize and celebrate team achievements, further reinforcing a culture of motivation and success.

The post-pandemic workplace demands adaptable and innovative leadership to engage remote and dispersed teams effectively. Motivation remains the core of successful leadership, and reigniting it requires understanding individual needs and cultivating a culture of collaboration and trust to unlock the team’s full potential. What sets exceptional leaders apart is not individual achievements but their ability to inspire and motivate their teams, as well as bring them together to achieve success as a collective. Leading with adaptability, fostering innovation and prioritizing employee motivation will drive organizations toward greatness, no matter where their workforce is located.

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