Motivating Your Team in Challenging Times

Motivating Your Team in Challenging Times

In this dynamic era, where change is the only constant, keeping ourselves and others motivated to ride the tide and look ahead can seem challenging, to say the least.


“The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change their future by merely changing their attitude.” — Oprah Winfrey


If the start of 2020 is anything to go by, we are living in an unstable, unpredictable and uncertain time. The recent financial budget has done little to instill confidence, and the sentiment of concern that prevails extends across all realms—political, economic, business, technology and climate change, to name a few.


Businesses are in firefighting mode, and leaders are remapping their visions while balancing liquidity challenges. Executives are concerned over stability, job growth and increments, while individuals are trying to prepare for the unchartered terrain that lies ahead. As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, it is important to acknowledge the feelings of anxiety and overwhelm that this continually disruptive world brings with it.


In a recent survey, it was estimated that 95% of Indian millennials and 89% of Indians, in general, are stressed[1]. Stressrelated complaints increased to 16% with a three-fold increase in anxiety-related disorders across Indian corporates last year[2]. A Forbes study has highlighted that there are five key triggers to individual workplace stress— confidence in the future, work-life balance, access to tools to do your job, workplace politics and a purpose/direction at work[3].


In this dynamic era, where change is the only constant, keeping ourselves and others motivated to ride the tide and look ahead can seem challenging, to say the least.


Motivational theories, such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Sirota’s Three-Factor Theory, McClelland’s Motivational Theory of Achievement-Affiliation-Power, Amabile and Kramer’s Progress Theory, the Pygmalion Effect, or the commonly used Expectation Theory, all suggest that motivation extends across the extrinsic and intrinsic realms. While people tend to believe that money forms the main motivator when it comes to making professional choices, research has indicated that only 12% of people leave on account of money. As high as 79% leave on account of appreciation[4].


Amidst this difficult environment, as leaders or managers, keeping our teams aligned and excited about our vision requires additional focus and action. In my work as a leadership coach, I am constantly approached by organizations to work through team motivation and improve sentiment for greater trust and thrust.


If you are looking to improve sentiment and motivate your teams, here are some thoughts on how you could approach your challenge:


Internalize your pitch: It is important to remember that motivation begins with our own energy and outlook. If the expectation is that our teams and organizations should be motivated, it is first important to look within to understand our own drivers. How we show up and communicate speaks volumes for how we truly perceive our own narrative. It is important to keep all of these in check!


Check the cortisol: The hormone cortisol, which is popularly known as the stress hormone, is released during challenging times. In bursts, it can motivate and drive us forward. However, prolonged stress or being. Overwhelmed results in high cortisol levels. This can have an adverse effect on brain function and immunity while reducing trust and receptiveness to our own reward system. It is important to minimize the angst to ensure that the release of cortisol does not have a ripple effect across our teams and organizations.


Acknowledge the challenge: As team leaders, it is equally essential to be open and authentic in order to accept that these are difficult times that need different measures. Acknowledging the challenge will allow you to manage expectations and build a sense of trust and commitment towards the objective. It is important to remember, however, that there is a fine line between being honest and being negative. So be careful not to cross it!


Be a mentor: A strong support system, as well as inclusive leadership, guidance and mentorship, are important in crunch times. Team members will become more motivated if they have a platform to share their concerns, feel that they are a part of an ecosystem, are allowed to fail, and be adequately backed up by their leaders.


Appreciate:  A little appreciation will go a long way. Many people leave jobs on account of poor managers and low to no appreciation or because they feel undervalued or undermined or excluded from decision making. Take a moment each week to appreciate the efforts of the team towards your vision. Being fair about their contributions and in their reviews is equally important.


◆ Understand their drivers: It is important to understand each person on the team—what motivates/drives them. In crunch times, it becomes even more pertinent to align individual motivation to organizational purpose in order to enhance productivity, performance and retention.


◆ Have fun: It is helpful to understand that nobody feels motivated all the time and that nobody has an unlimited supply of motivation. Challenging situations are a part of all cycles, and enjoying the ride is as much as a part of the process as accomplishing the goal. Remember to take time with your team to have fun, appreciate and celebrate so that work doesn’t exist in a silo and becomes a place of inspiration and growth for all.



[1] FUTURE ASSURED. Cigna 360° Well-Being Survey. (2018).

[2] With economy in downturn, India Inc’s senior executives grapple with severe mental stress. Economic Times. (2019).

[3] 5 Simple Tips for Managing Work Stress. Forbes. (2019).

[4] Branham, L. The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave: How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act Before It’s Too Late.



Shubika Bilkha is a dynamic entrepreneur, leadership and performance coach, author, and a prominent media spokesperson. She is the Founding Partner of EdpowerU ( that specializes in working with millennial and Gen-Z managers and leaders on their workplace behaviour and personal leadership development. Shubika has worked with large companies such as Deloitte as well as been the Managing Director of two early-stage startups in technology and education. She can be reached on Twitter @shubika.


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