Motivating Teams When the Results Aren't What You Wanted

Ann Oliva takes over the blog again this week and shares her thoughts on motivating your team when the results being achieved are not what you wanted.

This last year has been one that brought a lot of changes into my life – new work, new priorities, new partners.  But maybe most importantly I have had the privilege of having new types of conversations with people working on homelessness in communities around the country – and I have been overwhelmed by the acceptance and willingness of people to have me involved in their work.

As part of these interactions, I get asked questions about leadership and motivation that drive some introspection about the kind of leader I am.  Thinking about these kinds of questions, I hope, will make me a better one in the future.  Walking through them with Iain, and coming up with some collective thoughts about how to answer them, will definitely make me a better leader.

One of the toughest ones I have been asked recently was about how leaders can continue to motivate their teams even when the results of their work are not what they want.  In other words, what does a good leader say to a team of people who, despite their best and brightest work, see the results of the PIT count go up or experience system failure?

I have to admit that I was disturbed by the question at first.  I think that may be because my vantage point at the federal level gave me the opportunity to see positive change across the country in so many ways that it skewed my understanding.  But I now clearly see that this is an issue that local leaders are struggling with every day.   So I talked to Iain about it, and here are some of our thoughts on this important topic:

  • Homelessness can only be ended nationally when it is ended for every person who is experiencing it.  Every time someone is placed into housing, or into a job, or into a service they want or need – you are indelibly impacting their life in a positive way.  As a community, we need to remember this and raise it up when we need motivation to continue our work.
  • As a nation – and in most communities – the system that serves people experiencing homelessness is vastly different today than it was 10, 15, 20 years ago.  I would argue that the shift from making people prove they deserve housing, to orienting our system towards the idea that all people deserve housing is fundamental and has made our nation and communities better.  I would also argue that by working to remove barriers, valuing choice and equal access, acknowledging and addressing racial inequity and starting to work across systems we are making a difference.  That difference, in these examples, is that we treat people with dignity and respect rather than trying to "fix" them.  To me that is fundamental.  It is important.
  • Motivation can be driven by how we react to both the wins and the losses.  If we own our wins and celebrate them, then we need to own our losses and use them to make ourselves and our programs better.  Losses can represent a lot of things – but in most cases we hope that losses represent a willingness to try new things and improve what we are doing.  That is a good thing even if it doesn't always work out the way we want it to.  So, we have to look at the totality of our work and find motivation in the journey and effort itself.
  • Motivation is personal – while a leader can be inspirational and use tools to motivate a team, they can't know or address the feelings of every team member.  So it is up to each person working in our systems from the front line to the federal government to remember their "why."  Why did you start in this work?  Why do you keep getting up every morning and doing it?  Sometimes your "why" changes, and that is ok.  If it changes so much that you no longer want to keep doing it, is a change needed?

I am sure there are more answers to that tough question than these, but these are a start.  In fact, I hope to hear more from you.  In my travels I continue to be amazed by the people working in this field, and by the people who are served by our programs.  I hope you all keep the hard questions – and the answers – coming.

About Iain De Jong

Leader. Edutainer. Coach. Consultant. Professor. Researcher. Blogger. Do-gooder. Potty mouth. Positive disruptor. Relentless advocate for social justice. Comedian. Dad. Minimalist. Recovering musician. Canadian citizen. International jetsetter. Living life in jeans and a t-shirt. Trying really hard to end homelessness in developed countries around the world, expand harm reduction practices, make housing happen, and reform the justice system. Driven by change, fuelled by passion. Winner of a shit ton of prestigious awards, none of which matter unless change happens in how we think about vulnerability, marginality, and inclusion.

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