What makes your teammates tick: Tips for finding out

James Scouller explains why team leaders must keep an eye on their individual teammates if they want to boost their teams’ motivation

What makes your teammates tick

While group unity is a “must” for teams, it’s equally important for leaders to keep an eye on individual members. Why? Because they are exactly that: individual. 

We differ. We have different values, different hopes, different fears, different ambitions. We have different family roles and different things happening in our lives. So it’s foolish to assume that one size fits all. 

Thus, it falls to team leaders to get to know their teammates’ values, habits and idiosyncrasies and keep an eye on their confidence, engagement and development. This is what I call “individual attention”, which is one of my seven team building principles. Team leaders – and those aspiring to be team leaders – ignore  individual attention at their peril.

I’ve found that for team leaders the most important part of individual attention is learning what makes their teammates tick.

For English native speakers the question, “What makes you tick?” is familiar, but English won’t be the first language for everyone reading this online, so I’ll explain before going any further. It means, “What are the values, beliefs, opinions, ambitions, concerns, and feelings that cause you to behave a certain way?” 

In other words, “What motivates and demotivates you?”

In my view, the secret to grasping what makes your teammates tick has two levels. One I call the master key. The other I call the technical key.

Master key

We’ll start with what I consider the first level, the master key. It is, simply, to apply your will and put the effort in toshow interest in knowing your teammates. 

Concentrate on getting to know what makes them tick, what they’re feeling, when you need to adapt your behaviour to their circumstances, judging how and when to praise, showing interest in their personal growth, spending time on agreeing performance goals and discussing progress with them. 

Ask what more (or less) you can do to help them. Make sure you follow up and deliver whatever you promise. And don’t duck the tough conversations

Frankly, most team leaders I’ve seen in action spend little time on attention to their teammates as individuals and their relationship with them. 

When I run through the points I just listed, they shake their head ruefully and admit, “I don’t know” or “I’ve never asked” or “I only ever spend time following up on their tasks, I never spend time getting to know them”. 

So the master key starts with a shift in attitude: realising for the first time that showing interest in each teammate makes a huge difference to your team’s results. 

Technical key

Once you’ve made that shift, the second key to understanding what makes your teammates “tick” is asking questions, listening carefully, and observing how they behave over the following weeks. 

Your success will depend on the questions you ask, how you ask them, how well you listen and how genuinely you immerse yourself in one-to-one conversations with your teammates.

When I start working with new coaching clients, I use a short questionnaire to get to know them better, to understand what makes them tick. I ask questions like: 

“What are your three most notable achievements, the ones you feel particularly good about, and why those three?” 

“What is your attitude towards life: what significance, value and purpose does life have for you, and does this incline you to be optimistic or pessimistic, and why?”

“What problems, events and inner conditions make you suffer most or give you the most grief?” 

“What ideas, events or inner conditions give, or have given you, the greatest joy, the greatest satisfaction?” 

“Do you think you can attain lasting joy and happiness and, if so, by what means, what’s your theory?” 

“What have been the main turning points in your life and what special significance did they have for you?”

Perhaps on reading those questions you winced, thinking they’re too personal, too probing for your comfort. I understand. But I assure you they work fine in a one-to-one coaching context. 

I offer them to inspire you to create questions that work for you, that help you see inside your teammate’s mind, to go beyond the usual boilerplate questions like, “What are your career ambitions?” and “Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?”

Asking astute questions is one angle. But you must get the context right in your mind because it’s not only what questions you ask, but how you ask them. 

I recommend you see the context as a conversation, not an interrogation or an interview. In conversing, your motives must be genuine, you must convey your real interest in learning about your teammate to help them contribute to and benefit from being in the team. So consider your voice tone and body language, but above all, why you’re engaging in this conversation at all. 

And in the spirit of a conversation, why not reveal something of yourself to make it a genuine dialogue? That way, your teammates start to learn what makes you tick. And that can deepen the bonds between you, which only helps team performance.


So there you have it. 

Decide to put in the effort to really get to know what moves your teammates. Ask more searching questions (not the old stale standbys). Show genuine interest in what they’re saying. Make it a conversation, a meeting of minds, not an interrogation. And reveal what motivates you while you’re doing it. 

Try that and you should see a noticeable boost in your teammates’ contributions to team results.

James Scouller
James Scouller

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