Is a Happy Team a Motivated Team?

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Categories: Teams

By Linda Bourne

How important is happiness to team performance? We’ve all heard that a happy workplace is a productive one. And in fact, studies have demonstrated that a motivated, happy workplace is more productive and has better health outcomes than an unhappy one.

What is less clear is the relationship between happiness, motivation and productivity. Is a happy workplace an essential prerequisite to motivation, or is it a consequence of a motivated team enjoying their work and successes?

The relationship between happiness and motivation is not straightforward. Firefighters dealing with a dangerous wildfire are likely to be highly motivated, risking their lives to save the lives and properties of others. But they aren’t likely to be happy about the situation they are in. If their efforts are successful, there will probably be a very happy celebration. But the prospect of this celebration is unlikely to have any effect on their firefighting efforts.

The search for the role of happiness

So what is the role of happiness in team performance?

The elements associated with motivation are well-defined (for a discussion of the basic theories relating to motivation, read this article  (PDF)). But none of these theories includes happiness!

Unhappiness is a powerful de-motivator that has to be removed to allow the motivators to work, but does this flow through to the positive motivator side of the equation? Happiness may be a motivator, or it may be a collateral benefit of other positive motivators.

There are three possible scenarios:

  1. The fact that a team is motivated tends to create a happy workplace.
  2. Happiness and motivation are independent attributes but may be influenced by the same stimuli.
  3. Happiness is a significant facilitator that helps create a motivated team.

My last post on this topic, looking at the Australian Cricket team (PDF), tends to support the proposition that unhappiness is a de-motivator. It argues for option 3, since the new coach brought fun back into the team. Certainly the new approach caused a major change in performance standards; the success identified in 2013 has largely continued through 2016.

What’s not so clear is if the fun factor contributed to the improved motivation and performance or if the successes of the team created happiness. There may even be a combination of both effects in a beneficial feedback loop.

To complicate matters, happiness itself is a difficult concept. Happiness can range from the wild euphoria of a team that’s just scored a winning goal to the contentment and inner peace sought by Buddhists.

Then there’s biology. The brain seems to be designed to keep our level of happiness relatively constant. So while a positive stimulus will generate a short burst of happiness for everyone, the increase in happiness starts from the person’s innate baseline and reverts back to that setting after a short period.


So what to do?

My recommendations for using happiness to help motivate your team are in two parts:

  • First be aware of unhappiness. It’s a powerful de-motivator, and its causes need to be addressed. Everyone will experience unhappiness differently, so careful observation is needed to notice what’s occurring and then alleviate the issues.
  • Seeking to create happiness is less important. If you focus on the other elements needed to create a motivated team—such as setting clear objectives, recognizing good performance, offering the ability to develop and providing a cooperative team environment—then happiness might emerge spontaneously.

How important do you think creating a happy workplace is in the overall quest to motivate your team? 

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: March 18, 2016 02:13 AM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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Hi Lynda

I agreed with you happiness is the best motivator to the team. There are lot options to make the team happy. Project Manager must be creative on approach how to make team happy and must be sensitive with team motivation level.


Thanks for your comment Ahmad, but as set out in the posting there is very little evidence that attempting to create a 'happy' team is of any real value or what type of happiness results in a motivated team. What is important is working to remove any sources of unhappiness - unhappy people are not going to be motivated.

I fully agree with your article and recommendations. A happy team is a team happy to work with a leader able to manage their expectations and to create an appropriate climate sustaining motivation and focus to objectives achievements.
I have always concluded my introduction or kick-off sessions to my project teams with this couple of words: "Have Fun!"

Lynda, you have mentioned correctly that there is some relation exists between Motivation and Happiness.

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