How to Motivate a Lazy Team

Go to the library or book store and you can get lost in the stacks of books devoted to motivating team members. Books are good, but managing real people on real projects is better, and that skill requires a fluidity not often found on the printed page. Blog posts, well, that’s a different story. Here we’re not going to fall into the clichés about lazy people and lay blame where it has usually gone. There’s, of course, truth in the kernel of a cliché, but we’re going to drill down deeper and discuss real-life motivation tactics and explore the myriad reasons people may underperform.

Guides to project resource management seem to focus on having happy, diligent employees who always do the work that you assign. We all know that sometimes it doesn’t work out like that. A couple of people on your team can cause real issues because other people don’t like having to pick up the tasks that they “forget” to do.

Let’s look at some reasons why the people might be exhibiting “lazy” behavior and what to do about it.

Monitor for Overtasking

There are a number of alarming statistics about workload and productivity. Before you assume a worker is lazy, first look to see whether they’re over-tasked. Over 68% of all US full-time employees, according to a recent Cornerstone study, felt they were overloaded at work. Check your resource reports to view their hourly allocation across all of their projects, not just yours. And make sure you are accounting for other times, just as admin hours, vacation, lunch and holidays.

Remember the basic rules of allocation: no one resource can be 100% allocated. A maximum allocation would be around 80%, across all of the projects they are working on. Some would argue that number should be closer to 60 or 70%.

Monitor all of your team members to make sure you’re not creating burnout (which can certainly look like laziness.) Not every team member will approach you, their manager, about feeling overloaded, so make sure you take the initiative.

most workers are overworked

Lack of Incentive

Being in an un-motivating or boring workplace can have an impact on project team members. Yes, some project roles are repetitive. Likewise, all projects involve an element of uninteresting work – there is always admin to do and stuff that you’d probably see as less exciting than other tasks (depending on who you are and what you are interested in – some project team members will love the admin bits that you might hate!).

Lack of motivation is caused by lots of different reasons, and it’s not always due to the tasks themselves. It could be that the person does not feel adequately rewarded or cannot perceive his or her value to the team. It could also be that there is a problem among the members of your team. If you suspect a team member is not motivated, question whether you have properly articulated the project vision and are appreciating their contribution to the overall project goals. Also take a look at whether your organization’s incentive structure is fair. That is, if there even is one.

Your first task is to inquire about how the team member is feeling about the organization, the project, their tasks and the team. Try to listen for signs of discontent that could spell a larger risk for your project or the organization, like inter-office conflicts. If incentives are at issue, you can assess whether additional compensation is an appropriate action to take or whether you simply need to do a better job of linking their objectives to the project and helping them see the bigger picture. That, combined with involving them in work that they find challenging and interesting, might be the only approach you need to take.

Too Many Meetings

We’ve all experienced meetings that run on too long or never seemed necessary in the first place. Your team has a finite amount of time in the day, and even if you have accounted for some percentage of admin time in the resource plan, you could be the cause of their apparent laziness by holding excessive meetings. According to a joint study by Epson and The Centre for Economics and Business Research, which looked into UK worker productivity and meeting time, nearly 26 billion annually is wasted in unproductive meeting time.

Creating an open and collaborative environment can take the shape of too many people in too many meetings. Make sure not to involve people in meetings who are only tangentially relevant to their work, only to keep the team involved or support collaboration. Support collaboration with the right online tools, and you’ll truly reduce the need for meeting time, whether virtual or physical. And remember that the length of a meeting does not mean a more effective meeting.

Meetings may disrupt positive work rates

Lack Of Skill

There might be another reason for their “laziness.” Maybe it’s not that they don’t want to do the work as much as it’s that they actually can’t do the work. You don’t want to call out a team member on their apparent disinterest in the project and cause them to feel completely mortified. They may not be lazy at all, but are rather struggling to do their best work without any support or training.

First, assess the team member’s skill level and consider that against the tasks they are involved with. It might help to send them on a training course or formally coach them in the workplace. You could organize a mentor to help them on an informal basis or buddy them up with someone who does have the skills. Check that any user manuals or training guides that your team refer to are all up-to-date and relevant – it’s not unheard of for software project teams to be stuck with reference manuals that are for the previous version of software they are using. While there is a lot of advice available online now, just reassure yourself that any books or printed guides that are in use in the team are based on the latest advice. Make sure that you address the lack of skill issue first, and then see if motivation and commitment changes.

What If They Really Are Lazy?

Of course, sometimes your project team will have a genuinely lazy person in it. This person never does their allocated tasks and is difficult to manage. They will cause difficulties with the rest of the team, too, who will resent having to pick up their slack. Faced with a truly lazy person (assuming you have addressed motivation and skill) then you’ll need to talk to them about the fact their behavior is unacceptable, and if it doesn’t change, find a way to manage them off the project.

I hope you don’t have to deal with difficult people on your project team, but if you do, these strategies should make it easier to see problems and fix them before they become too serious.

One way to know your team is by tracking their progress, and the best way to do that is with the resource management software from Whether your team is working on site or remotely, you can easily stay on top of their tasks and responsibility, generate professional-looking reports and, at a glance, show your workload and resource allocation.

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