Amazing things you need to know to build awesome teams right

Understanding how the energy and motivation of your team impacts their performance is an integral task of any leader. Over my many years as a leader I have used and taught the Motivation/Energy Matrix. It is a simple, generalised model which any leader might find helpful.

parachute-groupIn this article, I explain the model and illustrate how energy and motivation can produce four distinct team member typologies.

For each of the four typologies, I also identify, based on my experience, how your leadership can help ensure positive performance, albeit in a limited way with The Retired.

What is the Motivation/Energy Matrix?

The model diagram is detailed below:

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There are four typologies, featuring high or low levels of motivation and energy. Each determines a differing type of team member in relation to performance. In the following sections I will explain each in turn.

The Retired – sometimes known as the Walking Wounded

These team members are typified by low levels of motivation and energy. Their title is simple, they are still at work though in their heads they have retired. They do a minimal amount of work in any given week, and live for the weekend. They are the most difficult to energise and motivate and my advice, based on years of experience, is not to try to do that. You will waste a lot of physical, emotional and mental energy.

Best to manage them through defining clear, low level tasks and duties and monitor them closely for their performance. Best of all, try to manage any staff member conforming to this typology out of your team and organisation. In the modern world, no team has room for passengers, and the Retired are definitely passengers you can ill afford.

It is rare that additional motivation around the vision and values of your organisation will help. Where it does, it generally moves them into the Well Poisoner typology, and I suggest ways to deal with those in a later section. What underscores the Retired typology most is their energy levels, which typically fluctuates around dead slow to stop.

To be fair, the Retired have often ended up this way because of the negative impact of the organisation’s working environment, culture or previous poor management. Unfortunately, once they arrive at this position, I’ve rarely seen great improvement in their performance.

The Well Poisoners

The asset of the Well Poisoner is their energy – it is usually quite high. However, their limited motivation levels mean they tend to use their energy to sabotage the workings of the team and organisation. And they can invest a lot of energy in doing this.

My experience suggests that well poisoners are best led by helping them to focus on the things that they love to do. There will always be tasks that they particularly like or are skilled at, which help the team and the organisation. So, identify what these are and manage these people by keeping them focused there.

Motivationally, the Well Poisoners are usually difficult to enthuse or inspire. Those I have encountered were misaligned between individual and organisational values. Changing such a position is difficult, requiring lots of input on your part as leader. In my view, this is misspent energy.

Better to harness their energy, as suggested above, and manage them carefully through consistent and regular support and supervision. This will make them feel valued in a way that appealing to their values may not. However, if you see their energy levels waning, be careful as they may dip into The Retired mode. Check they are focused on things they enjoy, adjust delegated tasks where necessary, and you will see their energy levels rise.

The Foot Soldiers

These typically formed the core of every team I have ever led and managed. They have high levels of motivation, being fully aligned with the organisation’s vision and values, and are committed to their delivery.

However, they have limited levels of energy and these can be expended rapidly. If it drops alarmingly, these team members may veer towards the Retired mode. If their alignment with the organisation’s vision and values slips, they may veer towards the Well Poisoner mode.

Typically, in my experience, the slippage of either energy or motivation occurs when they are overburdened with tasks or they feel they are being required to do tasks not in keeping with their view of the organisation’s vision and values.

From an energy perspective, levels will dip if your team member is overburdened with tasks, which they have either agreed to or because you have not been careful in task assignment. Foot Soldiers tend to be very willing and will often take on too much.

Similarly, the burden of duties or the types of duties requested blurs their focus on the long-term vision of the organisation. As a good leader, it is your role to ensure neither happens.

Simple ways to ensure this or remedy any slippage, include proper delegation of responsibility and authority, regular and consistent support and supervision sessions, and re-assignment of roles and responsibilities. These ensure that the staff member stays valued, focused and working within their individual capacity.

The Champions

Within every team I’ve ever managed I’ve had a sprinkling of these team members. They are typically highly motivated, self starters. They rise to any challenge and are usually the first to volunteer for new, often difficult tasks.

However, they also have a tendency to rush off ‘doing’, before they fully grasp what you require from them. That is, however, a limited downside, as the Champions, like the Foot Soldiers, are the engine house of your team.

Occasionally, you may need to re-motivate your Champions, typically through revisiting your organisation’s vision and values, and re-aligning them with those of your team. Alternatively, you may need, like your Foot Soldiers, to manage their workload more effectively.

I have seen Champions revert to Well Poisoners when their motivation levels drop, as well as to Foot Soldiers when their energy levels drop. Both can be managed as described earlier, though there is a need as their leader to remain alert and aware to sudden or even gradual changes.

In truth, a subtle change of typology can be beneficial for an individual in my experience. Sustaining your role as a Foot Soldier, Champion or Well Poisoner is demanding, so a relaxation of role helps from time to time. However, be aware of movement that precipitates a more alarming slide, as stronger intervention on your part is then necessary.

Using the Model.

The Matrix is a generalised tool. It provides you, as a leader, will some ‘rules of thumb’. Your insight may be flawed and the model may not equate to every team member in your team. However, in my experience, it has proven useful to me in my career in helping determine the makeup of my team and where best my energies and interventions were needed.

As noted earlier, the typologies will also shift from time to time, dependent on a number of variables. Most usually, these relate to volume and nature of work, and, most importantly, how you are supporting and supervising your staff. With the exception of the Retired. all typologies can be managed well for the benefit of the team, and ultimately for the organisation.

I invite you to try out this model and share with me your experiences. I am always interested in your feedback and am happy to engage in dialogue.

[Tweet “It always seems impossible until it is done. – Nelson Mandela”]

If you would like help in further interpreting or applying the model, please call me on 07958 765972 or reach out to me at – I am always ready to listen and happy to help.

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