Are Your Teams Unmotivated or Demotivated?


I’ve worked with a few unmotivated teams in the past. Folks on unmotivated teams lack energy. They see things as just the way they are; the status quo. They come in, do their job and go home. Things are normal…good enough.

I find it a fun challenge to motivate unmotivated teams. Getting to know folks a bit, finding out their interests or passions and helping them map those back to their job or career is quite rewarding, but I recently ran across a problem.

I began working with a team that had been working together on a project for a while. They were displaying all the signs of an unmotivated team. I had heard tell of some negative stories about “management” but nothing I wouldn’t have tacked up to normal enterprise candor and so I set out down my usual path to motivation…and met with failure. Everyone listened, asked some questions and generally interacted appropriately. Nobody was overly negative, they simply lacked energy.

After trying a few more tricks with no real traction, I started poking around at the negative stories I had heard before. After some digging it became apparent that some pretty heinous treatment was given and the team just took it on the chin…a few times. This completely demotivated them.

“I just…can’t.”

Not having been present for these acts, and only joining the team months later, what I was seeing was the exact same outward signs as unmotivated people, but really they were demotivated…which runs much deeper.

As I stated earlier, unmotivated teams simply lack energy. When something is lacking, you just need to replace it. However, with demotivated teams, something isn’t missing, something has been torn down, and must now be rebuilt. That is a much harder task.

Demotivation is a trust violation. Rebuilding trust is hard in any relationship but I think especially so between an organization and a team.

When one party violates another’s trust, the violating party needs to admit to some wrong doing. This is hard because an org needs to send a consistent message here. That means that those folks need to agree they did something wrong in the first place. It also means they can’t take the same or similar actions again in the future.

Orgs also can’t buy their way out of this. No third party can be brought in to do the actual rebuilding. A consultant may be able to identify the problem and advise on how to handle it, but the people in the org that enacted the trust violation need to be the same people to take action to resolve it (or even removed).


What they wrote on his farewell cake was…less than kind.

So where is this all this going?

Well, if you are a consultant; beware! If you think you’re working with an unmotivated team, the problem could be worse. If you identify a trust violation, you’ll want to change gears to facilitate rebuilding if possible.

If you are in a leadership position and think you have an unmotivated team on your hands; beware! If motivating the team doesn’t seem to be working, they may be demotivated and perhaps some trust needs to be rebuilt instead.

If you think there is a chance you may be the person who demotivated the team; beware! Don’t just go in and try to motivate people, especially in a “ra-ra go-team” sorta way. In my experience that just adds insult to injury. Maybe get some help from a coworker or an external source.

One side note. A fun fact about rebuilding trust is that many of the actions are a lot like building trust. An interesting side effect of teams within orgs that are actively trying to build trust, is that sometimes those teams get motivated that their org is showing interest and taking action.

So…be aware of de vs. un motivation and work to build trust no matter what!

This article originally appeared on and was reused with permission from the author.

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