Red haired woman leaning back in chair with hands behind her head gazing upward.

What Motivates People? The Whole Brain® Model Gives Us a Few Clues

It's no secret that a motivated workforce is a competitive advantage. But what motivates people? And how can you make sure that your team is motivated and productive?

With the Whole Brain® Thinking model, you can build a helpful framework for understanding the things that motivate people and how motivation intersects with different types of thinking preferences. 

We'll explore seven signs of low motivation and show you how to unlock inner motivation within your team, regardless of each person’s thinking preferences.

The Importance of Motivated Employees and a Motivated Workforce 

In today’s business environment, each day can be challenging in its own way. Constant change is the reality for many workers, who must juggle projects, shifting priorities, complex problems, and a never-ending stream of disruptions and distractions.

Beyond trying to stay focused, it's a major challenge for people to maintain their motivation and stay engaged. Research by Zenger Folkman suggests the problem of overwhelmed employees only got worse during the pandemic.

Unfortunately, removing all the stressors and distractions isn’t realistic in most cases. For some people, doing so might not even help. When we talk about what motivates people to work, we must recognize that everyone is unique — and that motivation comes from within.

Every organization benefits from a motivated workforce, but the challenge is that motivation is internally driven and different for each person. Leaders can’t create motivation or demand it. What they can do instead is invest in their people and help them tap into their source of motivation. When leaders do this, the benefits include:

  • Increased productivity
  • Higher quality work
  • Greater creativity and innovation
  • Higher levels of customer satisfaction
  • Reduced staff turnover
  • Lower absenteeism rates


7 Signs of Low Motivation in Your Team

Maintaining high levels of motivation in any workplace is challenging, especially when your team members are struggling. Low motivation contributes to worsening business results and morale, among other negative outcomes. Watch out for these motivational factors that could spell bad news for your workforce.

Low Engagement and Retention

A sure sign of the lack of motivation on your team is low employee engagement and poor retention. This manifests as a lagging indicator when your team experiences high turnover and low engagement. While you might have a sense of your people’s engagement levels, you can measure this more accurately through pulse surveys, exit interviews, and other formal feedback channels. 

Low motivation in your team can also be a leading indicator of retention problems. If your teams feel their work or opinions aren’t valued, for example, they’re probably suffering from low motivation. High turnover can also affect motivation, such as when your remaining employees feel frustrated by having to constantly start over with new co-workers.

Increased Absences 

Are your workers calling in sick or coming in late more often? Are remote team members difficult to reach during work hours? If your people feel their work isn’t fulfilling or that they aren’t receiving opportunities to use their talents, they’re less likely to be active participants.

Reactive Behavior

According to Psychology Today, reactive behavior has a negative impact on motivation. Reactive behavior results when people’s actions are driven by feelings and external events outside their control. As such, reactive team members might be more resistant to change or likely to complain. Their motivation decreases when they feel powerless and have no opportunity to be creative and innovative. 

Lower Productivity 

If your employees aren’t motivated, they might put in less effort than usual. Unmotivated employees might be less focused on their work, which can also lead to lower productivity. Lower productivity doesn’t mean no productivity: Your team is still getting stuff done, just not as effectively and efficiently as they could be.

Unfinished Work

If your people are consistently missing deadlines or failing to finish tasks, they might not be motivated to do their best work. There are many possible causes, including lack of training or poor communication. But such employees might also feel unmotivated by a project or their role. Whatever the reason, incomplete and late work are common symptoms of low motivation.

Poor Communication

If your team members aren't communicating effectively or seem unwilling to collaborate, they might not be motivated to work together toward common goals. There are many reasons employees struggle to communicate. They might not have the right tools or training. They might feel unheard or unseen by their manager and co-workers, which makes them reluctant to start conversations. 

Whatever the reason, poor communication is a warning sign of low motivation and suboptimal business outcomes.

Conflict Avoidance

Have you noticed that some team members avoid conflict? Whatever the reason, this fear of conflict can lead to low motivation because your people feel isolated, frustrated, and stuck. In some organizations, unmotivated employees might avoid conflict because they feel that they'll be penalized for engaging in productive disagreement and problem-solving with co-workers.


Using The Whole Brain® Model To Fuel Employee Motivation

The Whole Brain® Model is a framework based on understanding and applying a diversity of thought within teams and organizations. When cognitive diversity is unlocked, teams experience better communication, innovation, and productivity.  The Whole Brain® Model has four thinking preferences: 

  • Analytical
  • Practical
  • Relational
  • Experimental

By understanding these different preferences and how people use them in their day-to-day thinking, organizations can begin to unleash everyone’s inner motivation and improve team outcomes. Increased team motivation contributes to employees’ productivity, engagement, professional development, and creativity, all of which benefit your organization.

The way people think and process information affects not just how they go about their work but also the kind of work that stimulates them and the kind of conditions they work best in. When you understand how your employees think, you’ll have a better understanding of what they need to feel fulfilled, engaged, and motivated to give it their all, even when the pressure’s on. 

If you’re feeling stuck, here’s some inspiration to kick-start your thinking.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the four thinking preferences of the Whole Brain® Model and how you can help each person on your team find motivation.

A Quadrant (Blue)

People whose thinking preference falls within the Blue quadrant seek accuracy, data, clarity of purpose, and a logical and rational basis for doing something. People with this thinking preference are highly analytical and quantitative.

Ideas for unleashing inner motivation in the A quadrant:

  • Ask for input on breaking down and solving complex challenges.
  • Focus on the bottom-line impact of decisions. Back this up with facts.
  • Allow opportunities for thinking critically and taking decisive action. 
  • Provide access to necessary data, technology, research, and tools.
  • Be clear about goals, accountabilities, and purpose.

B Quadrant (Green)

People who prefer Green quadrant thinking often embrace order, structure, safety, and details. They are planners who appreciate consistency. 

Ideas for unleashing inner motivation in the B quadrant:

  • Ask for input on how to implement and execute strategies, even amid chaos or tight deadlines.
  • Focus on the ethics, risk management, and quality impact of decisions.
  • Allow opportunities for self-management and singular focus.
  • Be clear about agendas, time frames, and expectations.

C Quadrant (Red)

The Red quadrant is often the thinking preference for people who embrace collaboration. These people love expressing ideas, teaching others, and understanding the human impact of decisions. People with this thinking preference embrace interpersonal and kinesthetic ways of thinking.

Ideas for unleashing inner motivation in the C quadrant:

  • Ask for input on improving trust, relationships, and customer value.
  • Focus on values and the human impact of decisions.
  • Allow opportunities for connection and collaboration (e.g., video-enabled virtual meetings, communication tools), especially when determining how to build trust in a virtual team.
  • Check-in regularly, and ask for feedback.

D Quadrant (Yellow)

The Yellow quadrant encompasses such traits as flexibility, creativity, and a non-structured work environment. People with this thinking preference want to experiment and take risks. They're also what’s known as “synthesizers” in the context of Whole Brain® Thinking. 

Ideas for unleashing inner motivation in the D quadrant:

  • Ask for input on ways to challenge the status quo and come up with breakthrough solutions.
  • Focus on context and the long-term, strategic impact of decisions.
  • Encourage creative thinking, testing ideas, and learning from failures without penalty.
  • Use metaphors to paint a picture of your vision of the future.

Unleash the Inner Motivation of Your Team

More than ever, a motivated workforce is vital to business success. But helping people find their motivation and stay motivated is challenging. Everyone’s motivation is unique to them. And people’s motivation levels ebb and flow, so managers need to recognize signs of waning motivation. Thankfully, these challenges are easier to tackle when you understand how different thinking preferences contribute to people’s workplace behavior. 

By using the Whole Brain® Thinking model within your organization, you can provide a helpful framework for understanding the motivations of different types of thinkers. As you discover what motivates people, you’ll see your team come together, improve their thinking, and deliver stronger results.

Discover the top four challenges managers and teams are facing. 

Tags: Eliminating Blindspots, Gain Visibility

The four-color, four-quadrant graphic, HBDI® and Whole Brain® are trademarks of Herrmann Global, LLC.


The Whole Brain Business Book 2nd Edition

Read the first two chapters and order your copy today!