Creating Highly Motivated Teams

No Image Description

This training introduces the concept of direct and indirect motivators and how they impact individual and team performance. Understanding what motivates people to participate in CCL will help us have more engaged, higher-functioning, passionate and healthier teams. These important motivators make up the Third Pillar of CCL’s Transformational Organizing.

Related Trainings
Creating Highly Motivated Teams is part of the Group Organizing and Mentoring series.
TOC and Guide Section
Creating the conditions that motivate

“The proper question is not, ‘How can people motivate others?,’ but rather, ‘How can people create the conditions within which others will motivate themselves?’” --Edward Deci

A transformational organization is one in which the conditions are right for people to motivate themselves. And how well volunteers perform stems from what motivates them in the first place. So what drives individual motivation?  The concepts and framework discussed in this lesson are based on the research of Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi (not CCL volunteers) in their book Primed to Perform: How to build the highest performing cultures through the science of total motivation.

In their book Primed to Perform, the authors highlight the six key motivators that social psychologists have identified drive an individual’s involvement in activities.  These motivators fall into two categories: Direct motivators and indirect motivators. Direct motivators increase long-term motivation, which helps individual be effective and satisfied. Indirect motivators actually weaken long-term success, because they are based on things like emotional and economic pressure. These motivators are explained more below.

Direct motivators: Motives that strengthen engagement

Direct motivators help volunteers motivate themselves. This leads to more engaged, persistent volunteers and a fosters the conditions within which people motivate themselves. They tend to allow for an engaged citizenship, room for experimentation, and an attitude of persistence. Three direct motivators are described in this section: play, purpose, and potential. 

Play: Finding work you enjoy

People feel the sense of “play” at work when the motive is the work itself. You work because you enjoy it. Because the play motive is created by the work, play is the most powerful motivator. Play also means giving people the ability to experiment, to create, to follow their curiosity, and even to fail as it allows them to learn from these experiences. Some examples of the play motive are  a teacher who finds joy in interacting with students and creating new ways to help students learn, or a member of Congress who might be a policy wonk and enjoys crafting legislation.

To foster the “play” motive:

  • Ask people what they are excited about doing and encourage them to do that
  • Provide time, space, and encouragement to experiment and learn
  • Have clear indicators of success
  • Provide a time to reflect on progress and consider next steps
  • Celebrate successes and honor failed attempts  
Purpose: Believing in the greater outcome

A person who is motivated by purpose is not motivated by the work itself, but because they value the outcome of the activity. Purpose is the second strongest motivator. A teacher motivated by purpose may not necessarily love teaching or doing any of those creative things that feel like play, but believes in the outcome/purpose: helping kids learn and achieve their own dreams. A member of Congress motivated by purpose may believe first and foremost in serving the interests of her/his constituents.

To foster the “purpose” motive:

Help your team see how their work is connected to the larger outcome they value.

Take time to highlight stories of how other social movements have wrestled with their effectiveness before achieving their goals. 

Potential: The work as a step towards other personal goals

People who are motivated by potential see the work as a stepping stone to something else. They do an activity because it may lead to other personal goals.  They are invested in the work as an investment in their future. For example, someone may teach because they see its potential to advance them to  an administrator position. A member of Congress may serve in Congress as a way to position themselves to run for president.

To foster the “potential” motive:

  • Learn about people’s personal goals and needs
  • Match them with tasks or roles that help them achieve their future goals
  • Co-create with them a plan to develop the abilities they’re most interested in cultivating for their own future skillset

Indirect motivators: Motives that decrease long-term engagement

Emotional Pressure: Avoiding guilt

Emotional pressure motivates people when they are doing something to avoid guilt,  shame, or other negative feelings. Maybe they don’t want to disappoint, or are avoiding blame. When emotional pressure is the motivation, the work is no longer the reason you’re doing the activity. Some example of emotional pressure as a motivation include someone going into teaching because their parents wanted him or her to be a teacher like them  or a member of Congress being shamed into signing off on a policy. 

Ways to reduce “emotional pressure” in your group:

  • Replace a culture of competition with one of teamwork
  • Prioritize the things that people want to do and enjoy doing
  • Drop ideas that no one is enthusiastic about
  • Revise projects that create frustration or build in more support for those doing them
  • Do more of the things that increase the play motive (see above)
Economic Pressure: Performing for rewards

Economic pressure is the motivator when you do an activity to win a reward or avoid economic punishment. Some examples of economic pressure include staying in a job because you can’t afford to quit or working overtime to earn a promotion. For members of Congress, the persistent need to fundraise creates economic pressure.

Ways to reduce “economic pressure” on volunteers:

  • Explore low-cost options or fundraise to enable people with limited incomes to participate in CCL’s conferences
  • Recognize and appreciate that volunteers might have competing demands on their time and resources and help people find the right balance for themselves.
Inertia: Working out of habit

Inertia may be the motivator when you can’t identify why you’re doing the work. For example, you may be doing something for so long that you no longer remember why you began doing it in the first place. A single person motivated by inertia can negatively impact the motivation of an entire team. For example, a teacher may no longer be motivated by the desire to teach towards the end of the school year but is instead slogging to get to the end. A member of Congress who values getting re-elected over providing public service may have forgotten why he or she is there in the first place.

Ways to reduce “inertia” in your group:

  • Provide time to reflect on activities, including prioritizing and improving them
  • Invite people to experiment with new ways of doing things
  • Look for ways to measure outcomes so progress can be determined
  • Drop activities that are ineffective or time wasters
  • Re-focus on the things that increase play, purpose, and potential in your group 
Press play to start the video (56m 25s)
Video Outline
To skip ahead to a specific section go to the time indicated in parenthesis.

(From beginning)



Maximizing Performance

Key Takeaways for CCL

Ricky Bradley
Ricky Bradley
Audio length
Press play to start the audio (57m 6s)
Audio embed code
Audio Outline
To skip ahead to a specific section go to the time indicated in parenthesis.

(From beginning)



Maximizing Performance

Key Takeaways for CCL

Ricky Bradley
Ricky Bradley
Have you completed this training?
Let us know if you've completed this training! Your progress will be logged in the Action Tracker so you can reference a list of trainings that you've completed.
Log your training
Discussion Topic
To Print
Chapter Organizing
Audio / Video
Training Resources
Transformational Organizing Guide

See all resources associated with Chapter Organizing