Savage counsel – motivating your team

Chris SavageEach week for Encore Chris Savage tackles your career and agency dilemmas. This week he looks at motivating your team

Hi Chris,

How do you motivate your team? I’m having a shit of a time trying to fire up my mob and could do with some pointers.

At Singleton Ogilvy & Mather in the early 2000s, the motivator was simple: it was said a bullet was fired at your head the moment you joined – your job was to run as fast as you could to stop it from hitting you. It was, simply put, a high expectation environment. Tough place. Very hard working. It was all about the client and all about results. Some hated it. They usually left pretty quickly. Fair enough. But the people I respected there absolutely thrived on it. It was a badge of honour to survive and make it in that agency. If you could make it there, you could make it anywhere.

One of the pillars of that culture was the Monday morning 8.30am meeting. Everyone in the agency had to turn up. Singo was there. Russell Tate. Agency CEO Chris Mort led the session. These were tough guys. Anyone could be called on to step forward and update on something. Hearts beat fast. Adrenaline flowed. It was frightening. It was wonderful. And it was totally inspiring.

And here’s the point. I heard famous explorer Tim Jarvis talk recently about retracing the extraordinary 1916 exploration done by Ernest Shackleton and five companions. Tim repeated their incredible journey, sailing a small rowing boat with five others 800 miles through the roughest ocean in the world, from Antarctica to the island of South Georgia. He said the teamwork and motivation of the crew was outstanding when they were under pressure on the high seas. But as soon as they landed on solid ground and rested, discontent, disagreement and disunity began to unfold. His message: “Pressure builds teamwork.” I believe it.

I have always found the most motivated, happiest teams are those that are 10 per cent overworked.

No doubt you’re thinking ‘gasp – what an old fart he is’. It’s a seriously out of fashion view and lacking new age hipness and beanbags, mobile massage and doona days. So be it. For me, motivating teams is about setting high standards, insisting they are adhered to, working with pace and with deadlines that force action, regular communication, and a fair dose of friendly pressure on all. Lead from the front, set the example, but make it a place where your team members feel they are kind of special to be part of that high-performing team. Because, you know what? They bloody well are.

Chris Savage


This first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit encore.com.au for a preview of the app or click below to download.


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