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Motivation Theories — A Key to Effective Teamwork

December 13 2022

motivation3Being a leader is an exciting endeavor with many challenges critical to a team's success or failure. A considerable part of the job is creating a culture that inspires productivity and creativity and motivates people to do their best work with a smile. 


However, it is a very fine line to thread as figuring out what drives human behavior is not easy to understand. Motivation theories help management teams identify the best ways to achieve a business goal or achieve a positive result. When applied correctly, managers and leaders become effective at supporting employees and promoting a cohesive company culture.


This article will explain the fundamentals of motivation theory without the academic jargon that hurts your brain and how you can use it to inspire effective teamwork.


What is Motivation Theory


Motivation theory studies the forces responsible for driving people toward a particular outcome. It does not assume that motivation is just a specific individual behavior. Instead, it relies on foundations backed by sound research in understanding the specificity of what spurs people forward.


Motivation theory has provided significant benefits in psychology and sociology, but its adaptation in businesses has yielded remarkable results, especially for management. Understanding motivation theory lets management know what particular action is sufficient to motivate employees to work harder or care more about something to work together. This way, management can drive productivity and profits while increasing employee retention rates and satisfaction. 


Motivation theory does not aim to explain all aspects of human behavior. Instead, it acts as a basis for developing different approaches and techniques, each tackling specific areas of human endeavor. In essence, it provides various takes on the best ways to increase motivation in the workplace.


Categories of Motivation Theory


There is a large misconception that monetary compensation and packages are the sole reason for driving motivation. Digging a little deeper with supporting motivation theories reveals many factors that debunk monetary compensation as the only or major reason that pushes people forward in the workplace. 


The category of motivation theory that delves into the reason behind the motivation is called Content Motivation. It concerns itself with the needs and goals of the individual in question. Some of these reasons or factors include

  • - Recognition of ability
  • - Sense of achievement
  • - Personal growth and knowledge
  • - Stimulating work
  • - Promotion
  • - Empowerment and responsibility
  • - The feeling of being part of something more

The other category of motivation theories is called Process Motivation. Motivation doesn't just appear out of the blue, but it is as simple as it is complicated. This aspect of motivation theories offers insight into how motivation occurs in individuals. 



Motivation Theories to Inspire Effective Teamwork


There are dozens of different approaches that promise to unlock potential and inspire employees in the workplace. A quick online search can provide a lot to digest, but it is important to note that no single motivation theory is one-size-fits-all. 


The idea is to provide a unique insight into the factors that influence human motivation, creating the foundation needed to establish a workplace culture that harnesses employees' enthusiasm and focus for better teamwork.


Below are motivation theories capable of inspiring better teamwork when harnessed correctly.

  • (a) Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

As with individuals, the basic needs of every team member requires addressing first before anything else. The design of this theory aims to focus on individuals' fundamental needs, displayed as a pyramid of five tiers. Each tier builds on the other with each completed level.


These tiers include:

  • - Psychological Needs which include air, food, water, clothes, shelter
  • - Safety Needs which include health, employment, resources, property, security
  • - Love and Belonging which include family friendship, intimacy, connection
  • - Esteem which includes status, recognition, respect
  • - Self-Actualization which involves the ability to reach maximum potential


However, the adaptation and application of this theory in the workplace provide an essential lesson for management. Management should have the basic requirements for everyone within a team before anything else. Requirements like some level of job security, adequate compensation, and safe working conditions are far more vital than promotion as a primary concern for employees.


Once management meets the basic needs, the team becomes ready to connect, naturally leading to love and a sense of belonging if done right. Working towards a common goal, team members start protecting and supporting each other, creating friendship and stability for the team.


  • (b) Herzberg's Motivation-Hygiene Theory

Herzberg's motivation-hygiene theory identifies the factors that lead to job satisfaction and dissatisfaction in the workplace. The theory places these factors into motivators and hygiene.


Motivators are factors whose presence increases motivation, productivity, and commitment. They include perks, recognition, and personal growth. On the other hand, hygiene factors keep employee motivation steady. They provide no long-term satisfaction, but their absence dangerously leads to dissatisfaction in the workplace. They include compensation, company policies, and working conditions.


The key takeaway is that motivators are effective when healthy hygiene is in place.


Naturally, in the workplace, leveraging motivators in the presence of hygiene encourages a team to strive together toward a common goal. Not only does hygiene keep morale high, but the thought of a collective prize beneficial to individual members at the end can also increase teamwork in pursuing the goal.




  • (c) Vroom's Expectancy Theory

The premise behind this theory is that people will choose pleasure over pain. People will consciously try to behave in a manner that results in the best outcome or reward.


In the workplace, Vroom's expectancy theory depends on the idea of the valued outcome. If employees believe the reward is of great value, they are more motivated to achieve it. The valuation differs from person to person, but the truth remains that more effort is exerted when the reward is satisfying.


In practice, understanding what each team member values helps create opportunities for the corresponding outcome. If management can achieve this, the desired rewards are easily attached to expectations that align with performance. Knowing what's at stake in rewards spurs employees to do the most, especially when the performance depends on teamwork.


  • (d) Reinforcement Theory

Reinforcement theory comes from the concept of Operant Conditioning which relies on the law of effect but with a simple premise. Reinforcement theory expresses the psychology of consequences in shaping behavior. Reinforced behavior becomes habitual, irrespective of the outcome.


When the outcome of reinforced behavior is positive, it is called positive reinforcement. When they end or remove adverse effects, it is called negative reinforcement. In simpler terms, naturally, when an action's outcome is positive, that action is repeated.


This theory is one of the most intuitive theories to apply in the workplace. If the team members exceed expectations, some form of reward, like an extra day off, goes a long way in ensuring the repetition of such a feat. Teams are encouraged to continue the excellent work with the knowledge that their ability to hit targets and exceed expectations bears notable rewards and may do so again.


  • (e) Self-Determination Theory

This theory focuses on finding motivation within oneself. This autonomous motivation is superior to using rewards to push people to their maximum best as it is intrinsic. It occurs when people's choices align with personal goals and beliefs.

motivation4As with any other motivation theory, autonomous motivation does not happen on its own. In the workplace, it requires meeting three psychological needs. These needs include;

  • - Autonomy
  • - Competence
  • - Relatedness

Simplifying this for the workplace involves offering employees flexible work schedules and trusting them to decide for themselves when and where they are most productive. This covers autonomy and allows employees some level of accountability.


Providing additional training and learning opportunities to help employees refine their skills helps improve confidence in their competence. Providing outlets for team bonding, like team outings, lunch, or using communication tools like Snapfix, keeps the team connected on a more personal level.


There is no mystery behind motivation. Using motivation to pioneer effective teamwork does not require chance, fate, telepathy, or the universe aligning in certain constellations. The responsibility as a leader requires actively setting up the right environment and culture that enables employees to do their best work.

Combining motivation theories or simply using an approach helps to identify the method that best fits the situation, quells the madness, and creates a culture that spurs high teamwork through steady and increasing motivation.

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