Reigniting Motivation: Purpose

Reigniting Motivation: Purpose

One of the very worst aspects of motivation is when it leaves you mid-project and you still have a long, long way to go. Everyone is so stoked at the beginning and the energy is contagious. Then time starts to drag and now everything seems terrible. If there is more energy around the project, the team would probably use it to question why anyone even bothered to start such a ridiculous thing in the first place. Ok, maybe it’s not that bad (always) but we’ve all been involved in a project when the feel of motivation and energy is ebbing. It is possible to re-energize and reignite the motivation. 

Daniel Pink, in his excellent book, Drive, delves into motivation and how to move a group from an extrinsic, reward-based scheme to an intrinsic, self-driven type of motivation. The following three articles on reigniting motivation will look into Pink’s three main facets of intrinsic motivation: purpose, mastery and choice, and apply them to reinvigorating the mid project motivation droop. 

Hopefully, you started your project with the right people committed and intrinsically motivated to do awesome work. If you instead opted for extrinsic motivation know that the path of motivating with prestige, perks and paychecks will always lose its power to inspire and fire up the recipient over time because those extrinsic motivators create a condition of dependency that only grows and can never be fully satisfied. Maybe you can ramp up the extrinsic motivators and that will get you through to the end of the project, or maybe your team will become bored or confused as things become rote and uninspired. 


The external purpose suggests the reason the team was originally formed and describes it’s ultimate goal. Intrinsically motivating purpose is the reason each individual is engaged in the project and what they are getting out of it on a personal level. Intrinsic purpose can also be described as the satisfying parallel between actions and values. External and intrinsic purposes need to align at least somewhat for a person to be involved with the project at all. If there is no purpose alignment, the extrinsic motivating factors would need to be pretty extreme. For example, consider what would you need to do to convince a vegan to work in a butcher shop... Looking for shifts in external purpose and also changes in intrinsic purpose can be clues to reigniting motivation. 

Take a look at the stated purpose for the team. Is the original articulation of the external purpose still relevant/meaningful? Has it shifted or evolved over time? Is everyone still clear on the goal and what is necessary to attain it? A team process of mission statement development, exploration or re-visioning can help make the external purpose alive and relevant. Boosting the energy around the team purpose by clarifying or bringing it to everyone’s attention can remind people how their intrinsic purpose aligns and fire up the motivation. 

Alignment of intrinsic purpose can also shift over time. One telltale sign is seen when a person’s role on the team evolves significantly. Someone may have felt excellent purpose alignment when they were starting the project, because their role was defined by that initial environment. As the team and project evolve, and team roles subsequently shift, issues in intrinsic motivation arise. 

Deconstructing role and purpose alignment can be tricky because the roles we think or say we have are not always correlative with our actions. Look at the actions and behavior of people first, then describe their role. Roles and the purpose of individuals in those roles can become murky over time especially when people lose connection to everyone else and all other roles on the team. I've seen teams conduct work tasks so independently they never know or understand the roles of their teammates. These teams may function, but sans relational trust, purpose lacks invigoration and consistency. This may seem like an efficient use of focused energy, but without the connection to the teammates each little piece of the project loses meaning. Making sure people know each other also helps reinvigorate purpose by bringing light to the accountability required for each person to do their part for the whole to function. 

Possible action steps:

  • Remind everyone of the purpose that got the team together in the first place.
  • Reframe or rephrase the external purpose (mission) to more closely align with what is actually happening and any turns that the group as taken along the way.
  • Ignore all titles and assignments and assess teammate's actions and use that to describe their role in the group – are these roles needed/helpful to reach the goal?
  • Make sure everyone knows each other – help people get to know their teammates even better – has everyone been siloed focused on their individual piece of the puzzle for too long?
  • Hold a pep rally.
  • Remove unneeded roles.
  • Have each individual describe the team's purpose and see how well everyone's answers align.

It’s important that each individual on a team feels and understands their personal sense of purpose. Taking time to reflect on purpose when things feel uninspired can work to unite and remind people of the power and energy they had when they started. Further, exploring the purpose for a team’s work will hopefully help teammates transcend and scaffold their initial purpose. It can also be a measuring stick for what progress has been made along the way. This sense of progress is another facet of intrinsic motivation: mastery.