Use inspiration: challenge your team

The HR industry’s been telling us for a while that money alone isn’t enough to motivate and engage employees. What works, then? In my experience, it’s about giving your employees a challenge, engaging and empowering them.


Here are my suggestions for challenging staff in a small business. They’re not costly, and while I can’t promise they’ll transform your people into a team of business hot-shots, they’re worth considering if you’re looking for new ways to reinvigorate your workforce.

Ask them to improve the company

As business owners, we sometimes can’t see the forest for the trees. We think our business is running efficiently when, in fact, there are things our employees know could be improved - from internal processes to interactions with customers – based on the fact they do this on a daily basis.

With that in mind, inviting your employees to ‘improve the company’ - either via gather rounds in the office, or via email - can be a great way to come up with some ideas that can really benefit your business.

You’ll need to be clear on the ‘rules’ though: set expectations that not all ideas will be actioned. It’s also important to let employees know that there’s no such thing as a silly idea, so as not to discourage quieter members of the team from voicing their thoughts (but don’t forget to back this up with actions by never shooting down an idea).

If you want to go a step further, pick some ideas that you think could work, and ask employees to volunteer to make them happen – giving them the autonomy to work out how to solve the ‘problem’ with minimal oversight from you. Lots of businesses have seen the benefits of empowering employees in this way.

Give them a training budget

There’s nothing like training to expand a person’s horizons. But do you have time to source and organize a training course? I’m guessing not. Instead, get them to source their own training. They’ll build their research and initiative while they’re doing it.

You can give each person control of their ‘training budget’ and ask them to find a course or a program they want to join. Get them to produce a pitch, giving you the business case for the training course and explaining how their new skills will benefit the whole organization.

Be open to all ideas – if Bob can convince you that salsa lessons will make him better at presenting, let him put on those dancing shoes and prove it to you. You might be surprised: confidence gained in other areas of life can often show through in work-related tasks too. Or, if you can’t stretch to a training budget, consider offering up a list of free courses – such as IT skills and for budding digital marketers - and give your employees a certain number of hours during each working week to complete them. As well as benefiting staff, it could also prove useful for your business if you’re willing to let staff put their new skills to use.

Volunteer as a team

You know those team-building days where everyone gets muddy in a field or collaborates to build a house out of straws? You can get all those skill-boosting benefits and team bonding without paying a cent. And help a good cause into the bargain.

Local charities, community groups and seniors’ residential homes all require volunteers on a regular basis. You could be digging a garden, tending livestock, reading with kids or helping out in a kitchen. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s different enough from the everyday to give your folks a really memorable experience that gets them working together in new ways.

Many charities have corporate volunteer programs, but if your business is small, you may be able to go straight to the charity itself. To get an idea of what’s available, visit


The companies I mention or link to in this post are just examples that I thought you’d find useful – I don’t endorse them or their services. I have no affiliation with them and make no representation about their services.