You could say that one of the toughest challenges a leader will face is how to get their teams through ever tougher challenges. In fact, a recent poll of members of a CEO Advisory group showed that 37% of company leaders reported that their number one challenge was knowing how to challenge their employees in healthy, productive ways.
Every phase of every project brings up questions about successfully presenting and overcoming challenges. How do we frame measurements and goals in a way that is challenging but not overwhelming? How do we avoid burnout or loss of morale while getting people motivated to rise to the challenges offered? How do we keep that energy going when challenges come up unexpectedly?
It’s time we “flipped the script” and looked at challenge in a whole new way. Challenges aren’t the problems humans face, they’re actually opportunities to meet one of the basic needs that humans have.
Humans are hard wired to strive. Otherwise, there would be no world records, no accolades for being the first to scale a peak or land on the moon, no awards ceremonies, and no football, baseball, or any other “team sport.”
The truth is that we love a good challenge. But how do we define good?
I start with The 6 Facets of Human Needs™ as detailed in my book, The Human Team®. A good challenge is always set up to meet all six of these facets Clarity, Connection, Contribution, Consideration, Challenge, and Confidence.
In a nutshell, you must frame each challenge that will be presented to your team through this lens. They must have Clarity around the goal and the expectations placed on them to achieve it. They must have Connection and mutual trust of their leaders and peers. The challenge must require Contribution from every individual. Their role in creating the win must give Consideration of their unique “superpowers” and skills. Of course, it must represent an attainable Challenge, and they must have Confidence in themselves, leadership, and the rest of the team.
But there are a few additional requirements to get your team truly motivated and excited about meeting challenges. And each of these requirements relate directly to one or more of The 6 Facets of Human Needs™.
1.) The goal must be clear, relatable, and realistic.
When you challenge your team to meet a goal, they need to have clarity on what is expected. Beyond the obvious details like outcomes, milestones, deadlines, and task ownership they need to have clarity on the impact this goal has on the organization, the opportunities they have to contribute and to benefit, and context for “why”. If your culture has The 6 Facets of Human Needs™ baked in then you likely have a lot of the requirements for clarity in place.
If their need for clarity is fully met, they will be able to relate to the relevance of the goal as well as to understand the way forward toward meeting it.
2.) Keep the focus on the desire for completion rather than on the threat of failure.
Failures happen. Therefore, a challenge that is focused on preventing failure is predestined to fail because not all failures can be prevented. But when you embrace failures while focusing on the desire to successfully complete the requirements of the established goal humans naturally respond by contributing more freely and effectively to creating the end result.
3.) Establish interdependencies and expectations then give the people room to create outcomes.
When you start with giving your team clearly defined interdependencies and expectations and keep the focus on a mutual desire for completion you activate their natural need to connect, contribute, and give and receive consideration to those around them. In a healthy environment they will bond over the shared challenges and wins, and you’ll see an increased frequency of collaboration and high fives. Just remember that an overattentive manager is like a wet blanket on this high achieving energy, so monitor and mentor but don’t micromanage.
4.) Put them in charge of monitoring success.
When the people in charge of the outcomes have access to the measurement of success, whether that’s a shared dashboard, a sales reports, or daily status updates, they’re able to connect activity to outcome, resulting in the team’s buy-in to “what gets measured gets done”.
5.) Give the challenge a definite beginning and ending.
We have an innate need to bring things to completion, to close the circle. It’s why when we’re overwhelmed and stressed, we are often compelled to clean a closet or bake a cake — it’s a project that we can see through to the end. A team that knows exactly what the finish line looks like will strive harder to reach it.
And here’s a bonus tip to supercharge your team. While all humans share the same universal needs as I’ve defined in The 6 Facets of Human Needs™, we have different profiles when it comes to our values, reward mechanisms, and motivation drivers. When you give each person on your team the consideration of identifying their individual Drivers and putting them in a role that activates that aspect of their need to strive and contribute you have a team that is not only excited about the challenge you offer them, but is fired up and ready to take on the world to make it happen.