How To Reinvigorate A Stagnant Team: Part I


Even the best-performing teams can run out of steam and fall into a rut. As fantastic as “the good old days” were, nothing lasts forever. Change is, after all, the only constant. Where people once were incredibly self-motivated and engaged at work, now, they’re listless, bored, and relatively more haphazard about their work.


Regardless of how badly it’s affected team performance or not, it’s a definite cause for concern. Sooner or later, a stagnant and unmotivated team will end up contenting itself with the status quo instead of striving for higher standards and continuous improvement. No problem is ever unsolvable, though; stagnant teams are just in need of some re-energising. To begin this process, though, there are two critical things you must understand.  


1. Determine why stagnation has set in

Stagnation doesn’t just happen out of nowhere. People lose momentum at work and in life for a variety of different reasons. Devising an effective strategy to reinvigorate a stagnant team necessitates an in-depth look a what caused things to come to a standstill in the first place. Invite your team to reflect, privately and collectively, on why they’ve become demotivated.


Repeated failures, for instance, could take the wind out of your team’s sails. This is especially so if all the ensuing disappointment has been swept under the rug and not talked about and processed together. Another common reason why stagnation occurs is simply frustration from stalemates arising from office politics. Depending on what the proximate cause of the stagnation is, the solutions will all be different.


2. Go back to the “why”—and keep going back to it

In his New York Times bestselling book “Start With Why,” Simon Sinek writes that the desire for belonging is an innate part of being human. We choose who and what we want to belong to based on our shared values and beliefs, and it shapes the decisions we make about ourselves, our identities, and our lives. It is, in a nutshell, what gives us purpose and a “why” to live our lives by. It’s also why Nietzsche once said that “he who has a why can bear almost any how.”


Hence, when a team hits a plateau in terms of progress and motivation, it’s critical to go back to the “why.” Purpose, after all, is one of the three pillars of intrinsic motivation, according to NYT bestselling author Dan Pink. People need to know (and continuously be reminded of):

  • why they’re working together as a team instead of just working individually towards the same cause
  • why the work they do is essential on an organisational level (how it affects society at large)
  • why the work they do is crucial on an individual level (how it fits into their goals and dreams in life)


One huge stumbling block, in this regard, is the perception that only certain kinds of work can be meaningful, like teaching. Instead, it’s all about perspective. A hospital cleaner, for example, can either look at his or her job as something that pays the bills, or as something that helps to heal others and save lives. Shifting people’s perspective of the work they do in this respect is essential.

Additionally, finding ways to allow your people to interact with those who benefit from their work can be a crucial source of drive. Wharton psychologist Adam Grant, for example, found that charity workers who met and interacted with a beneficiary of their work reported much higher levels of engagement and motivation than those who didn’t.


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