Motivation is actually a choice.

The question is: How can we create the conditions within which team members and learners will motivate themselves?

We tried something “new” this past semester. We agreed to co-teach marketing students who needed to improve their English skills. We asked them to form teams, build a shared vision, define their project goals, and identify opportunities for improving their work and learning processes. While we put a lot of effort into the course outline, we also counted on students’ self-organising skills and motivation. Bang. We almost failed. The 20-somethings were used to getting guidance and incentives. They seemed to miss the point - and the purpose - of the class. In good news, we all survived the semester. And after some reflection, I can say it was worth doing it.

Key Learnings

When asked to reflect on their key learnings, most students stated that they had become aware of the complexity of self-organising teams, the importance of good planning, defining roles, objectives, and outputs. They had learned that effective decision-making processes as well as leadership, allocation of tasks, and proper documentation were key to a team's success. Students with very good reflective skills mentioned the challenge of creating a sense of purpose and the importance of intrinsic motivation. One student wrote, “It is hard to deliver good work when your are not fully into a project and do not know the bigger picture.” I agree. Perhaps this is what happens also in real life. Individuals join organisational teams and are forced to work towards goals they may not fully identify with. They have to get along with project leaders they may not like. Naturally, this leads to personal frustration, negative team dynamics, a lousy work atmosphere and mediocre output.

Up to Us

What I have learned this past semester is that it is up to us: We can decide to adapt to new situations, be open-minded, and get into the flow. We can also decide to complain and play negative group dynamics. In our case, all teams were exposed to the same situation, got the same information, and were encouraged to make the best of it. It was nice to see how some of them started enjoying their activities and came up with excellent ideas and outputs. At the same time it was difficult to handle the demotivated ones, keep encouraging them and stay positive despite their complaining.

Turn Skills into Motivational Habits

At the end of the day, I am convinced that the ability to motivate ourselves plays an important role here – on both, teacher and student side. What we can do is cooperate and try to establish conditions within which team members and learners start developing team skills that become motivational habits. To do so, we need to listen carefully, clarify misunderstandings, continually reflect, and be patient with each other. Perhaps one semester is a bit short to accomplish that goal. Still, I am glad we were optimistic enough to try it and that we were able to at least plant some seeds.

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​© 2020 Christina Merl

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