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Team Success Under Stress

At some point in time, we all find ourselves either working on a team or leading a team. Team success and team unity are constant water-cooler topics. Team leadership and dynamics are perennial workshop titles for conferences. After studying 30-50 organizations a year for more than a decade, I’ve noticed an intriguing yet commonly overlooked element of team success.

Looking from the inside out, do team members think of themselves as cogs in a machine? Obviously not. However, it is easy for a leader to default to thinking of teams as nothing more than an assembly of machine parts. As a result, whenever a team leader attempts to get people fully engaged in the team’s mission, this mindset proves to be as effective as playing classical music at a football game.

Don’t get me wrong; I believe that team dynamics and group think are important concepts to consider. Under certain circumstances, people in a crowd or on a team will act and think differently than they might when alone. In my experience, however, that’s more the exception than the rule. More often than not, people act the way they normally would regardless of whether they’re participating in a group or acting alone. This is especially true for team members who spend the bulk of their time working alone, such as occurs with virtual workers.

To put it simply, my premise is that teams are people too. In this article, I’ll discuss how to motivate teams of people by looking at what motivates individuals. Whether you’re leading a team, working in a team, or simply thinking about personal motivation, this approach will offer a dual perspective on motivation for both our teams and ourselves.

Over the past 12 years, I’ve researched organizations throughout the US, Asia, and Europe. Every time I go to visit organizations and study their employees, I find an interesting situation which I like to call “motivational amnesia.”

Consider the following question: Why don’t I want to do what I know I should do? Most of us know what we need to do to reach our goals. In the same way, most teams know their desired outcomes and key performance indicators and are driven to reach those goals. However, they are often not able to stay focused and motivated. This is what I mean by motivational amnesia; it’s a situation where motivation can be high for days or even weeks but then disappears mysteriously, only to reappear and then disappear yet again—all without significantly changing an individual’s life.

B.J. Fogg, a Stanford University professor and noted behavior change researcher, explains it like this. For any of us to behave in a specific way, we require motivation (M), ability (A) and triggers (T) to all be present at the same time. Fogg’s equation can be written as B=MAT and is a fantastic diagnostic tool for understanding why a person or team is not behaving or taking action at the best and most optimal level. However, I feel this formula is lacking one more key ingredient.

Even if we as individuals or in teams are motivated, able, and triggered consistently into positive action, we’ll eventually run out of steam and stop dead in our tracks. Most people who work in a high demand environment do not run out of opportunities to excel; rather, they simply run out of physical juice. For this reason, I would modify Fogg’s B=MAT formula by adding energy (E) to it. You may be quick to notice that this could generate the acronym B=TEAM, and I’m sure you might be groaning and rolling your eyes at this level of predictability. We could also adapt the acronym to spell META, a Greek preposition used to indicate a concept that completes or adds to another concept. This, however, might be too abstract for some, so I’ve decided instead that it would be best to add some MEAT to our teams and personal goal pursuits.

Behavior = Motivation + Energy + Ability + Triggers

Let’s look at each of these elements in turn from the perspective of both the individual and the team.

Motivation (M)

            The soul of our goal is our being motivated. It is what drives the hard work and sacrifice necessary to reach our goal, and it is what gives meaning to our work. I’ve researched groups of business leaders, judges, physicians, and many people whose jobs directly and dramatically benefit people, and I’ve discovered that although these people are never short of meaningful work, they often feel that they are. When I ask why they sacrifice so much to do their work, they usually respond by moving their chins up and slightly to the left. It’s as if they’ve stopped to ask  themselves, “Yeah, why am I working so hard?” To be fair, it takes only a couple of minutes for them to come up with a powerful and meaningful answer that seemingly justifies their efforts. The reality is that they are not short on motivation or meaning; they are simply short on clarity, and it is clarity that energizes.

If we asked ourselves why we work so hard, what would be our response? If we asked our teammates the same question, what would their response? Learning what these responses are will afford us valuable insight as well as a solid foundation to begin improving, focusing, and aligning our teams.

When I ask people to clarify what positively motivates them to do their work, they often find it surprisingly difficult to do. It’s as if I’ve asked them to define their core values or even the meaning of life itself. I’ve found that it is easier to approach this topic by asking them how they work with others in the service of something greater than themselves.

When applying this to teams, however, we must remember to be cautious. For example, we might ask someone how their being on a particular team serves something greater than themselves. Team members might think to themselves, “Settle down, weirdo.” I’ve found that clarifying a meaningful motivation (M) and thus gaining the energy (E) from that effort is better approached in a more indirect way. I might ask instead why someone is working so hard on a particular project and then keep reframing the question until clarity is achieved.

Though this approach might seem to require a lot of work, it’s definitely worthwhile. We need to remember that whenever we help to clarify the source of a team’s motivation, it can be incredibly energizing.

Energy (E)

            Workplace perks are making a comeback. I’ve visited many workplaces recently that are focused primarily on improving employee engagement and loyalty. They attempt to do this by instituting some type of “great place to work” program, which is a highly recommended approach.

One amenity often offered is a gift card for a coffee shop or coffee bar. Caffeine via coffee and tea can be a healthy and productive addition to most people’s diet. When timed correctly, a coffee/tea service can be a great addition to a team meeting. Of course, if caffeine is provided without limitation, it’s important to educate the team on how much caffeine is healthy and productive, which can be a very helpful team strategy. Another growing trend is to replace Danishes and doughnuts in team meetings with fruit, nuts and yogurt to avoid the dreaded post-lunch crash that comes from combining high sugar foods with caffeine. These newer food selections may cost more, but don’t forget that time is money and that teams cannot afford to lose hours of work due to “presenteeism,” which is basically when the body is present, but the mind is not.

Besides the fact that people with more energy are often more creative and productive, there is one big, often overlooked reason to help our teams with their well-being. According to Towers Watson and the Harvard School of Public Health Forces (2009), the number one driver of employee engagement is, “Senior management’s sincere interest in employee well-being.”1 How do we often contradict that approach? By saying that we care about people’s health and families outside of work and then expect them to work 14-hour days.

We must remember that personal energy and team motivation are absolutely intertwined. By showing that we sincerely care about our team’s well-being, we encourage our team to be fully engaged in what it is doing, even during times of stress and pressure.

Ability (A)

Are we and our teammates confident that we can do or learn to do whatever is necessary to accomplish our goal? One of the quickest ways to increase stress and procrastination and to damage team morale is to ask people to do something beyond their actual or perceived skill-set. The reverse is also true. The more capable someone feels about a given set of tasks, the more positive energy is available to work toward the goal.

Ask yourself these questions: Can I do what is required to reach our goals? What can we learn to increase our confidence?  These are the things we must consider for us to be certain we are helping individuals and teams obtain the appropriate abilities. Have we trained our teams adequately so that they are confident about the tasks they’re being asked to do? Have we given enough direction, examples, tools, and success stories? Have we enabled them to learn more when necessary? We must always remember to ensure that the team feels confident in its ability to do what counts.


            What prompts us to take action? A frustrated sales manager once told me, “My sales team and I set the goals for client outreaches this quarter, but they’re not doing what they need to hit those numbers. Why won’t they do what they know they should?”

I discussed B=MEAT with him and confirmed these considerations. The desired behavior was to make a certain number of client outreaches each quarter, and he agreed that was true. The motivation for making sales calls was clear, and he informed me that team members knew that making those calls was the fastest way to achieve their goals. He also told me that the company had invested heavily in training and that their training manual was massive, so it appeared that they had been trained well enough to be confident in their ability to make the calls efficiently and effectively.

My follow-up question then captured the issue. Do they have specific daily triggers that prompt them to make sales calls? He responded with the chin move. I suggested that he determine when the sales people would have the highest probability of reaching the clients. He said that 9:00-11:00 a.m. was the optimal time. I suggested that 9:00 a.m. should become the universal trigger for the team to make calls, and if team members were not calling during that time, they should have a very good reason. This simple trigger resulted in the highest sales in his service as the team leader.

Remember: consistent motivation is based on positive momentum. Install daily triggers to ensure proactive behavior and to consequently fuel consistent motivation and focus.

As a  former college athlete, I’ve heard more pre-game pep talks than I can count. Some flopped, but others were successful in their ability to inspire. I realize now that the success was based on our leader helping to clarify why we had worked so hard in preparation. Even

though we all have different roles on the team and are different people, we are part of something bigger than ourselves. These kinds of leaders inspire confidence in our ability. Thanks to them, we knew that our plan was sound and that when we executed the plan appropriately, success would be inevitable.

We can help our teams and ourselves by clarifying the driving force behind our sacrifice, consistently increasing confidence by helping improve team members’ ability to do their work, and setting triggers to turn successful behavior into automatic behavior. This will lead to individual and team success under any kind of stress.



Andy Core is an award-winning lecturer, author, and expert in productivity, motivation, and well-being. He was voted a 2012 Top 5 Global Health/Healthcare Speaker by Speakers Platform and has spent the past 23 years mastering what it takes to become energized, healthy, motivated, and better equipped to thrive in today’s hectic society. 


How to: Take Charge of Your Life.

keys-to-happiness_o_1511909When an article is discussing work-life balance, the subject is often directed to working mothers. However, Andy Core’s advice to change your life is for everyone who may be overwhelmed or discouraged with their day.

For instance, everyone has now finished up their holiday season, and soon we will all embark upon the most dreary months of the year. Because when the holidays have ended and the lights are packed up, we’re left with three months of winter and no opportunity to take a vacation. Many of us will hit a lull in our day to day lives that make us feel like we’re on autopilot. Maintaining an upbeat and motivated perspective may seem impossible.

1.) Reflect

However, studies show that if you feel yourself slipping back into bad patterns for whatever reason, be it depression, lack of motivation or just plain fatigue, the best way to get back on the wagon is to reflect back to a point in your life that made you feel happy. When were things going well? If you keep a journal on a regular basis, this might be an easy exercise. However, if you tend to live life by the moment, and don’t take time to reflect on a regular basis, this may take more time.

Either way, just remember the times that you felt the best about you. One great article I read yesterday suggested that we change things according to how we did things as a child. Check it out here. What were you doing differently that you fail to do now? Were you cooking meals with your family? Were you exercising? How much TV were you watching? How much sleep were you getting? Were you prioritizing your relationships? Were you excited about your job?

2.) Reformat

All these questions relate you the minipatterns you’ve designed. If you haven’t stuck to the most beneficial ones, then you most likely won’t be in a good mindset. Therefore, to stay energized at work during this next year, focus on the small, daily habits that you know you should do. Putting technology on the backburner could help significantly. Get your blood flowing with exercise to feel the excitement of health, oxygen and stress relief. Eat mindfully both at work and at home. Practice gratitude.

Picture this for a moment. A three-year old has your laptop in its grubby hands getting ready to bang on the screen, drop it or get the keys sticky with food. You’d freak out, right? You’d instantly take your laptop back, assess the damage and take control of the situation.

Sadly, it seems that we care about electronic devises more than ourselves.  Due to whatever reason, we often continue to let our life be out of sync for years at a time. We give the laptop to the toddler.

I’m not asking you to freak out about changing your life, but I am asking you to value your peace of mind, health and community at least as much as an electronic device. You have the power to assess the damage and create daily habits slowly in order to change your life.

The hardest part is getting started. The worst thing you can do is get overwhelmed by a huge list of things to do. Once you have the motivation of one small adjustment, a tailwind affect will occur and change will snowball with that momentum. One encouragement will serve as a catalyst for transformation. Just change one thing in your day, and if you keep it up, in time, you’ll have reached an amazing goal.


There is Power in Your Attitude

Positive thinking can only benefit you

Positive thinking can only benefit you

Andy Core is an expert in Work-Life Balance, Wellbeing, and Peak Human Performance.

Every person is equipped with the power to bring change. If you believe something will happen, be it positive or negative, it will happen. This power is known as intention. It’s a choice and we all control that choice with our attitude.

It all boils down to how you think. Scientists have proven that our minds get into a habit of producing thoughts with a certain mindset. If you usually see life through a negative lens, the chemical produced will be familiar to your brain. The same is true with positve thought.

This perspective will create a chain reaction that starts with the emotions we store and generate on a daily basis.If we learn to nurture the good feelings and discard the negative, then our energy will attract positive energy from others. A smile does wonders to create a better day, a better reaction, and a better life.

Being positive can only lead to good things in your life. Don’t accept defeat and never let negativity stand in your way. Don’t even let it effect your thoughts. Obviously this can be difficult at times. But if you are able to welcome the challenges that face you and take pride in what you have achieved, it will motivate you and energize you to continue this flow of good energy.

Only you can decide what your attitude will be. If you make the daily choice to have a positive attitude your positivity will rub off onto others and begin to change the world. Literally, your attitude and belief can change the world.

To learn more on Andy’s programs





You Can Overcome Any Obstacle

Andy Core is an expert in Work-Life Balance, Wellbeing, and Peak Human Performance.

the one you feedI motivate businesses and individuals for a living, and like everyone else, I too can grow weary from the demands of life.

Everyday you face difficulties that will discourage you. From normal stress to actual tragedies, life can be hard to handle. The secret to overcoming these obstacles is based on perspective. If you focus on what’s wrong rather than what is good in your life, you’ll fail to overcome your challenges.

Sometimes you must simply take a break and put things into perspective. Right now, some of you may feel ready to give up, but if you can change your attitude, you will see that things aren’t as hopeless as they seem.No matter how bad things might seem, if you persevere with a positive perspective you will find that things eventually change and you develop a happier lifestyle.

As a motivational speaker, my advice is to live a life of gratitude. This means consciously being thankful everyday. I’m not being trite- research actually shows that verbalizing what you’re thankful for, making a list, or even capturing the moment through photography, will help to transform your long term perspective .

I once was challenged to say something I was grateful for every time I turned on the faucet. When I started this, it felt almost comical, but as I continued with the challenge, it started to become habit and my life, by default, improved.

When you start this activity, you may not feel the immediate change, but just like dieting, if you continue to be thankful on a daily, or even hourly basis, you’ll start to feel better. You’re literally putting your perspective through a workout.

There are going to be harsh times as you progress through life, but also know that they won’t last. When you make it through and obstacle that is difficult, you will appreciate the good times and the achievements you worked hard for so much more.

What activities can you do that bring you joy? Dancing in the mirror, playing with your pet, singing out loud to a fun song? All of these are way to build up your positive perspective. Your attitude needs to be fed just like your body. Make sure what you’re putting into it is healthy and helpful.

To learn more on Andy’s programs. 


Set Yourself Goals to Achieve

Set high standards for your goals

Set high standards for your goals

Andy Core is an expert in Work-Life Balance, Wellbeing, and Peak Human Performance.

Success is different for every person. We each have different expectations for how our life should end up, and we each have different skills that will help us get there.

However, regardless of our differences, we should all follow similar steps in life to bring us success.

1.)    Realize your passions.

For some, this might be the hardest part. Passion can be an elusive emotion when pitted against stress, insecurity or life restraints. Therefore, it’s extremely important to take the time to pay attention. If your life consists solely of what is required of you, then you most likely aren’t taking the proper amount of time and effort to learn who you are and what you want.

Knowing yourself is the first step, and like all relationships, it takes time and intention. For myself, journaling, meditation or conversations with friends helps me to decide what I’m passionate about. For you, it could be totally different. Try taking a drive by yourself, hiking or gardening. Quiet periods may give you the insight you need to find your passion.

2.)    Decide how you want to live those passions out.

This is also tough due to the sheer number of choices you have. For instance, if you’ve decided that you care about the environment, there are any number of career options to pursue. You could be a lobbyist, a nonprofit fundraiser or educator.

Here’s a secret though, you won’t know what you really like until you try it. After some research, decide how you’d like to live out your passion. Depending on what you’ve chosen, you may want to pursue an education. This could be as simple as reading a book or as complicated as getting a master’s degree.

3.)    Set small goals.

It’s not enough to say, I want to be a marine biologist! You must figure out the route that you should take to get there. You might get lucky and start on the ground floor of a company and work your way up the ladder, or you may have to go to school. This could take more research, but once you have some vision for your passion, you can do the fun part- Get started! Set goals and put yourself out there every day.

There is nothing wrong with setting the bar high for your goals as long as you are prepared to work hard and have the patience to reach them. If you break your main goal into smaller goals you will have the encouragement of experiencing success with every small goal you reach on the way to your main goal. As a motivational keynote speaker, this is my favorite part- helping you to form guidelines for reaching your goals effectively.

4.)    Believe it will happen.

This is probably the most important step, and it’s remarkably the one thing you have control over. If you’re passionate about something, you can no longer doubt your ability to get there. You MUST believe that it will happen. Write your goal down, verbalize it with someone who’s close to you, and look forward to the realization of your version of success.

Belief fuels your motivation and gives you the energy to keep going on the goals you’ve set. If you truly have faith in yourself, then you’ll automatically pursue what you need to pursue and your energy will connect to others who can help you get there.

These steps won’t create an instantaneous change, but they will set you on the path to live a passionate, dynamic life. You never know where you’ll end up but with the right intention, you’ll be pleased with the results.

To learn more on Andy’s programs. 



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Change Your Day, Not Your Life
A realistic guide to sustained motivation, more productivity, and the art of working well
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About Andy Core
Author and speaker on work-life balance, productivity and wellbeing
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