Icebreakers – Motivation

We’ve all seen cats hunting birds and mice. They are so intent upon their goal that they shut out the world and concentrate only on their prey.

I want you to visualize a cat hunting a mouse. Imagine a wild cat; it is scruffy, thin, and very, very hungry. (Allow time for visualization.) Now imagine a fat, very well fed housecat going after the same prey. Imagine that this cat just finished a liver and kidney dinner and doesn’t have room for another bite. Does this cat display the same whole-hearted concentration as the half-starved cat?

We sometimes act like half-starved cats. There are goals that we put all our energies into completing. We really want to achieve that goal! At other times we act like the fat, well-fed cat – we aren’t quite as motivated to reach the goal – it just doesn’t matter as much to us.

Is there an instance when you were a half-starved cat pursuing a goal? When were you more like the fat cat? Explain the difference in your behaviour.

Tip: This icebreaker works particularly well if these theories of motivation are later discussed in the workshop – Vroom’s Expectancy-Valence Theory, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and Expectancy Theory. It also works well with discussions matching rewards to the individual.

Alan Weiss, a top organizational consultant, states on his website, “You would not believe how often I’m contacted by people who want something from me (advice, mentoring, subcontracting, free books, etc.) who begin their appeal by pointing out how poorly I’m doing something and how poor my judgment is…if you want something from me, then may I suggest that you try a softer tone, preferably one that’s more constructive and doesn’t insult my judgment…” ( – quotation used with permission).

We each have turn-offs or “trigger buttons” that make us angry and cause some of us to instantly answer, “NO!” These triggers can also apply to rewards. Instead of motivating us, some rewards can actually de-motivate us.

What is the very worst thing that your boss could give you for a job well done?

Patricia Fripp, a noted speaker on issues ranging from motivation to presentation, gives several “sell yourself tips for consultants.” These are:

  • Focus on the bottom line. Stress the results you will get for them.
  • Don’t offer backup information unless or until you are asked for it. It can interfere with the “big picture.”
  • Be “up.” Low energy and monotony will kill any presentation. Show genuine enthusiasm.
  • Be visual. People remember what they “see” in their imaginations. Paint a vivid picture in story form of how things will be when you have the job. (“…six months from now, when your business has increased 15%, your market share is 5% higher, and your sales teams are in harmony for the first time…”.)
  • Have a strong closing. For example, “Your next decision is not whether to hire me, but whether can you afford not to!”

Choose one of these five tips. How can it apply to motivating your employees?

Tip: Put the five tips on a handout to make it easier for people to refer to. Make sure you reference Patricia Fripp.

People can be described in various ways. For instance, one person might be warm, compassionate, even-tempered and forgiving. Another person might be harsh, temperamental, illogical and manipulative.

Think about your reward system at work. If this reward system was a person, how would you describe him/her?

The 50-acre Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia were carved from a limestone quarry owned by Portland Cement manufacturer, Robert Pim Butchart. Mrs. Butchart had everything she wanted – incredible waterfront views and a lovely house – everything except the gardens she craved. So she decided to create her gardens from old quarry pits. “As Mr. Butchart exhausted the limestone in the quarry near their house, his enterprising wife, Jenny, conceived an unprecedented plan for refurbishing the bleak pit that resulted. From farmland nearby she requisitioned tons of top soil, had it brought to Tod Inlet by horse and cart, and used it to line the floor of the abandoned quarry. Little by little, under Jenny Butchart’s personal supervision, the abandoned quarry bloomed as the spectacular Sunken Garden.” (

Think about all the steps Mrs. Butchart went through in order to grow her flowers. How can you use these steps to grow the flowers (employees) in your organization?

Think about a time when you were really motivated to either complete a project ahead of schedule or do an especially good job of a project. What one thing most made a difference in how you felt? If that one thing hadn’t been there, would you have done as good a job completing the project?

You’ve probably heard of a variety of ways companies reward their employees. These range from a simple thank you note to providing dry-cleaning and pet sitting services to giving top performers and their partners a Caribbean cruise. Think about all these different rewards. Which one would put you over the moon? And which one would do absolutely nothing for you?

I never criticize a player until they are first convinced of my unconditional confidence in their abilities (John Robinson, football coach).

If your company took this statement and insisted that all managers live by it, how would it change your workplace?

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
Money can’t buy you love.
Better to beg than steal, but better to work than beg.

Which of these sayings best describes your values? Which best describes how you like to be rewarded for a job well done?

If they made a movie about how the leaders in your organization motivated their staff, would the movie be classified:

  • Action;
  • Comedy;
  • Documentary;
  • Family;
  • Horror; or
  • Science Fiction?


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