What’s the difference between a leader and a manager?

It’s simple. Managers manage, and leaders inspire — and when you want to get the most from your team, you’ll need to do both. But how?

Keeping people motivated and inspired is tricky. Different teams require different approaches, and you’ll need to connect with each of your team members to figure out what really gets them going.

Still, there are a few general best practices that you can apply to get the ball rolling.

Technical training and growth opportunities

Research shows that training and development opportunities really pay off with technical teams — providing them boosts in motivation, engagement, and even retention. It makes sense. New tools and updates come out every day, and developers need continuing education to keep their skills sharp and progress in their careers.

Not sure how to make this a reality? Consider investing in resources like Codecademy Teams that’ll let your team dive deep into their preferred programming languages and libraries and their various functions. There are also offerings that enable easy training management by allowing you to customize your team’s curriculum and assign content to individuals and groups to ensure they’re learning the right skills.

But there’s more to professional development than technical training. Soft skills like leadership, presentation, and effective communication are just as essential.

Try encouraging your team to find opportunities to practice their soft skills. Internally, this could look like lightning talks or brown bags. Externally, the programming community is always rife with opportunities to share new knowledge.

Professional events and conferences are a great way to hone soft skills, and contributing to one will also help the people on your team develop their personal brands. Plus, if your company offers stipends for professional development, they can be used to cover the cost of attendance.

Purpose and recognition

Another way to get your team excited about what they’re doing is to make sure they understand the purpose.

The first step? Be transparent. How well does your team understand your decision-making process? When communicating objectives, are you explaining the logic behind them or just disseminating information from the top down?

Then, try connecting each of your team members’ work to real, positive outcomes. Show them that they’re making a difference and that their work has value beyond profits and revenue.

On that note, you’ll also want to make sure they feel appropriately challenged with their day-to-day work. As your team progresses through their technical training, give them new and exciting projects that put their skills to good use. Repetitive tasks can be tedious, and people might explore other options if they feel undervalued or underutilized.

Even so, that doesn’t mean you should drop all of your most challenging projects in one person’s lap. Balance people’s workloads so they’re easy enough to grasp but challenging enough to put their skills to the test. Bonus points if you include enough time for passion projects — more on that below.

Public recognition also goes a long way toward keeping teams motivated. If you haven’t already, consider adding an extra 10 minutes to your weekly meetings to shout out individual and team accomplishments. Not only will this help them feel appreciated, but it might also inspire their teammates. Who doesn’t want a pat on the back for a job well done?

Autonomy and creativity

Studies show that autonomy can be quite the motivating factor. Giving your team a little ownership over their work can lead to improvements in everything from performance to job satisfaction. But what does autonomy actually look like?

In truth, it takes many forms. Remote and hybrid work have skyrocketed over the past two years, and giving your team the option to work from home can help boost engagement and productivity.

You can also try giving your team a little freedom. Showcase your trust in their capabilities and judgment.

On a small level, this might involve allowing them to take on any interesting tasks in the backlog between bigger projects. On a larger scale, you could give them more flexibility in their work. Instead of delegating each step of every project, try explaining its objectives and criteria and see what they come up with. Not only will this help give them more ownership over their work, but it’ll also give them the chance to innovate and be creative.

Creativity is another key to keeping your team motivated. People aren’t machines. Give them a little room to play.

This could include ensuring everyone has enough time for passion projects — projects that, while less essential for organizational objectives, are fun and exciting for your team. Or, you could even host a hackathon.

Fostering creativity in the workplace is an excellent motivator, and studies show that it can improve your team’s problem-solving ability and collaboration skills.

These tips will come in handy the next time you’re trying to find a way to inspire your team, but as we said earlier, different approaches work for different people. If you really want to light a fire under your team, connect with each member and identify their motivations, goals, and interests. You’ll have enough information to develop a more cohesive approach afterward, but just having the conversation is a great first step.

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