2 ways to re-ignite disengaged employees

How to use coaching to create an engaged and motivated team

By Helene Smuts, Managing Partner, CONTRACT

It can be tough at the top. With the help of proven tools, you can be a strong leader and create an engaged, motivated team. Here’s how a coaching approach can help you do it.

The world of work is changing. And so are people’s approaches to it. Today’s workers are looking for more autonomy and flexibility, ongoing personal development and fulfilment. At the same time, leaders’ workloads are increasing, and they are expected to take increasing ownership of their roles. The key to success is having engaged, motivated teams who work beautifully together to support you and each other.

A coaching approach to leadership encourages individuals to tap into their own skills and confidence, grow quickly and discover problem-solving abilities they didn’t know they had – enabling them to do things they never knew were possible. It’s incredibly empowering.

Leaders who use a coaching mode don’t give advice. They guide and ask questions that allow their team members to arrive at a solution on their own.

Coaching empowers people by building awareness and responsibility:

Awareness of the context, and their own resources, skills, power, responsibilities and role.

Responsibility to act independently. Coaching builds true responsibility by guiding team members through their choices and assisting them to make good decisions.

I believe that if you’re in coaching mode and you move to giving advice, you’re taking away the other person’s opportunity to think for themselves. By encouraging them to come up with a solution that works for them and their preferences, you’re letting them take the lead. And when people feel empowered in that way, they naturally show up more engaged.

Here are 2 very powerful tools to do exactly that:

Feeding the hungers

Every person is different. To empower them, you need to understand what drives them.

The Motivational Hungers model, introduced by Eric Berne, suggests that a person is motivated (or not) if certain needs in their immediate environment are being met (or not). If you can help meet those needs, that person is more likely to feel more fulfilled and motivated.

The model can be useful for leaders in creating an environment for their team to really show up. And it puts responsibility on employees to identify areas that create an environment in which they can feel motivated.

The three ‘motivational hungers’


A person with structure hunger is someone who needs orientation and security. They like

  • clear goals and agreements
  • clear task allocation – and knowing who to talk to if there is a question/ concern
  • tidiness, orderliness, and routine
  • clear understanding of the limits of their responsibility
Example: Say you need a company event organised. If you’re asking a structured person to do it, you could say: ‘It was an amazing event last year, let’s try make it as good this year. Here is your budget and here is the list of suppliers. You can have regular check ins with me to see how it’s going.’

This approach allows leaders to better understand the needs and motivating factors of the individuals in their team and adapt how they act and communicate so it’s done in a more thoughtful way.


A person with a hunger for acknowledgement thrives on being recognised and acknowledged as an individual and for their actions. They like

  • spontaneous praise or unexpected benefits
  • being sociable and working in a team or group
  • positive and critical feedback
  • being involved in making decisions and being recognised as competent
  • a pleasant learning atmosphere and work environment
Same Example: If you were asking a person who seeks acknowledgement to organise your event, you could start with: ‘I think you’re amazing at project management, please could you plan our company event.’
Stimulus (or challenge)

A person with a hunger for stimulus and challenge looks for incentives in everything. They like:

  • new topics or new content that is challenging
  • keeping a client, even when they threaten to leave for the competition
  • taking on huge learning and challenges
  • making the impossible possible, when others have already given up
Same Example: If you wanted to ask someone who needs a high level of stimulus to organise your event, you could say: ‘Last year was an amazing event. Let’s see if you can organise an even better one this year.’

The best way to find out how your team members fit into this framework is to ask them. Pay a bit more attention, engage, have conversations. You’ll be amazed at the response.

GROW your team

The GROW framework, developed by Sir John Whitmore, provides a relevant, practical tool for leaders who want to coach and can be used in all sorts of situations as a guideline for goal setting and problem solving.

GROW is a step-by-step process:

  • defining and structuring a clear goal or future state
  • asking ‘what do you want to achieve’, ‘how would you know that this problem is solved’ or ‘what would success look like for you?’
  • clarifying the current situation, understanding what the ‘gap’ to the goal is and finding out what options have been tried
  • asking ‘what have you done so far’, ‘what do you think is the underlying challenge here’ or ‘in what way do you inhibit your potential’?
  • exploring what could be done to move from present reality to future goal, and creating actions that will help towards the goal, supporting ideas and creativity
  • asking ‘what could you do?’, ‘what’s the craziest idea you can think of?’
Will and way forward
  • converting the discussion into an action plan and checking on commitment to do it
  • asking ‘what are you going to do?’, ‘what support do you need?’

When someone approaches us with a problem, we tend to go from assessing the challenge straight through to giving them advice or solutions. But that means you’ve just told them what to do, and as a manager kept control. By following the GROW steps, you ask questions and encourage problem-solving, assisting the person to think for themselves and come up with their own solutions.

Coaching in practice

Using a coaching approach is very flexible and can be used in many contexts – from asking a few questions to check someone’s thinking in the corridor to having an in-depth project review conversation or developing a critical skill.

By using a coaching approach to lead your team, you’re enabling and empowering your team to make decisions themselves. It’s a powerful way to change mindsets, foster engagement and build responsibility.

Want to learn how to ask amazing and powerful questions?

Have a look at our tool to use: Questions that shift thinking