How to Motivate your Team

Running a start-up? Ewan Anderson, Marketing Start-up Specialist at TalentSpark, gives his top tips for motivating and leading your team.

When you’re running a start-up and your mind is being pulled in several different directions, it can be easy to forget about motivating your team. Not every entrepreneur is the ‘lead-from-the-front’ larger than life personality that Richard Branson or Jeff Bezos might be.

However, it’s important to remember that your team is the most important aspect of your business. They are the people who will work with you to deliver the dream and change the world in whichever sector you operate. They need to be inspired and motivated to turn up every day in a very challenging environment, where wages don’t always match that of the large corporates and the stress levels can be reasonably high.

Here are some of the best ways to inspire your troops which don’t necessarily involve bonuses:

1. Lead from the Front

You need to show leadership if you want to inspire the team. It seems fairly obvious, but not all of the people who run start-ups are leaders. That’s not to slight their ability – many of them are exceptionally talented within their specialist field. However leading in a technical field and leading a team are two very different specialisms.

As a leader you need to bring passion and enthusiasm that people can work off. They need to feed off your positivity. Even when things are tough and you have challenges round every corner, you need an unerring sense of optimism.

Teams also respond to strong, clear leadership. Having a clear vision for the direction of the business will help you communicate goals to the team and will ensure they understand how their work fits into your overall ambition.

2. Learn to Communicate

One of the most important elements of running a successful business is good and continuous communication. Today, many jobseekers that are looking to move on from their current roles are doing so because they are not sure where the business is going and no one is communicating from the top.

Take some time to build in a proper internal communication strategy. It doesn’t have to be a rigid programme of internal emails or briefings. Ask your team and find the way they like to be communicated with and build in a regular programme of updates and discussions to make them feel part of the process.

When you have these discussions don’t be scared of their feedback. Presumably you have brought in smart people, so value their opinion when they offer it and take on board their suggestions before making a decision. Remember – communication is a two-way street.

3. Delivery is Key

Develop a habit of delivering on your promises. This isn’t an easy thing to do, especially in the start-up world as there are so many competing priorities and a lot of people to please. However, your team needs to deliver for customers. If you are making promises to the team and not keeping them, it introduces the notion that deadlines and agreements aren’t important to you so there won’t be consequences for missing them. This does not mean that you should implement a draconian process of firing people for missing deadlines but if you don’t deliver on your promises then what impetus does your team have to complete the tasks you set out for them? Lead by example!

4. Develop Leaders

There is much debate around the concept that leaders are born, not made. This will never be definitively concluded but it is true that some people are natural leaders. However, you should actively support your team and those within that team who show an aptitude to lead.

Before they actually become a leader, encouraging members of your team to take a leading role in certain projects, inspiring them to make decisions and take responsibility, will really make them feel part of the cause and give them a stronger connection to the company.

It will also help with succession planning. If you are mentoring the next generation of leaders through your company it will ensure a strong future for the business.

5. Pitch and Deliver

This is quite an interesting one and can take a bit of time; however the rewards could be extremely beneficial both to the company and to your staff. Have a regular pitching session for your staff, once or twice a year might suffice to encourage your team to think entrepreneurially. Encourage your team to identify a particular problem or a gap in the service/ product you offer and get them to pull together a pitch for you and your other board members.

You are inspiring your team to think differently by challenging what they do on a day to day basis. The most important aspect of this process is to give proper feedback. If you are not going to take forward their idea or suggestion forward, make sure to give them constructive, fair and well-reasoned feedback. If you are going to push forward with the idea make sure you can deliver on it.

6. Build a Winning Culture

There’s no evidence to suggest that creating a cut throat ‘win at all costs’ culture is anything other than toxic for businesses. It is healthier and more productive to create a culture in your organisation that will inspire your team to go the extra mile to make sure your business succeeds.

Your culture should be built on values that reflect the type of company you want to be – one that resonates with your internal and external customers. It could be as simple as having a remote working culture, enabling people to work from wherever suits them best. It could be a tools down at 16:00 on a Friday (even if you’re coming back to it at 18:00) to have a beer or a juice with team mates. It might even be about picking a different team activity to do every month (after pay day of course).

Whatever you do, make sure you create something that any new-starts can get involved in and that reflects the type of company you want to be.


Leading a start-up is not an easy task, and without a strong team around you, you’re doomed to failure. In turn, your team won’t stay long if they are not inspired.

So take some time to work out what your company is, what it stands for and what that means to your existing employees and potential hires. Then take a bit of time (which we know you don’t have much of, but it will save you in the long run) to figure out how that will manifest itself in motivation for your team and make sure you follow it.

Leaders – take responsibility and lead. Your team will follow.