Guide to Motivation, Part 1: How to Motivate Your Team

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It is easy to think of the role of a managing a project in terms of tasks, schedule, budget, resources, deliverables and risk. These are the things that many management books and courses focus on. In fact, we just published a roundup of such books. But it would be wrong: people deliver projects. Your role, as a project manager, is to enable them to do so. Perhaps we might characterize this part of your role as Project Leadership.

A big part of the leadership role is to enthuse and motivate your team. The problem we have is that there are as many motivational factors as there are people; more, in fact. I doubt there is just one thing that motivates you. So if you look at motivational theory, you’ll find many different models and theories, all emphasizing different aspects that contribute to a complex whole.

So, I want to look instead at four general principles that will help you figure out the best way to keep your project team motivated, day after day, in the good times, and the tough.

Principle 1: People are Individuals

Without banging on about the obvious truth that we are all the same, yet we are all different, it is vital to emphasize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to motivation.

The cultural, social and personality differences among your team are its greatest asset, so why would you try to treat everybody the same, in motivating them? Some people need endorsement, others want rewards. Some need to feel they have power over other, while some just want to work together in harmony.

Get to Know Your People

The solution is therefore obvious and, I hope, not onerous: you need to get to know everybody in your team. Find out about what they like and don’t like, how they tick, and what gets them excited. The more you can get to know each person, the better able you will be to allocate them roles that interest them to start with. And, when you need them to do something less enticing to them, or when their morale has dipped, you will have deeper insights and a stronger relationship from which to motivate them.

motivational rules for teams

Treat People Well

The more you get to know me; the more I get to know you. If you treat me with respect and act generously towards me, then I will feel grateful and will like and respect you. The urge to reciprocate loyalty is a powerful motivator for most people.

Look for ways you can do small favors for team members and find ways you can accede to reasonable requests. If you make their lives easy, morale and motivation will stay at a higher level all round. The alternative, a Martinet attitude to following the rules slavishly, will often breed resentment, distrust and a feeling that strict compliance is all that your team owe you.

Principle 2: People Need Purpose

Small children spend a lot of time asking the question “why?” And so do adults… it is just that we have learned not to constantly do it out loud. But that does not negate the fact that if we don’t get a good answer, then we want to rebel. We certainly are not motivated.

The Power of Because

At the simplest level – tactical, if you like – is the power of the word “because.” If I don’t know why you are asking me to do something and cannot see the point, then I may comply, but only because I believe I should. I won’t be motivated: at best, I’ll be frustrated with you. But, if you give me a simple reason why you want me to do this, then you will neutralize all of that demotivation and replace it with a sense of purpose. This is especially true if that purpose links to a higher meaning.

The Need for Meaning

People have a real drive to find meaning and purpose in our lives. We have values and a sense of what is most important to us. If you are able to link your project, or the work packages you are assigning, to a team member’s sense of purpose or their values, then they will be hugely motivated to deliver something that, to them, is important.

teams need a compelling reason to do what you tell them

Principle 3: People want Success

Some people see failure as a spur to greater efforts, while others take it as a cue to give up. But we all find success motivating.

 

Personal Success

We become demotivated very quickly when we do not feel in control of our lives and our work. So giving your team members control and a level of autonomy in the work you assign them will be motivating for most, as long as the challenge you set them is not so great that the fear of failure takes over. This means you need to fully understand their level of ability and readiness for a challenge. However, it is only when working at the edge of our capabilities that we can achieve flow states of deep, contented concentration.

Getting Better

Another highly motivating feeling for most people is the sense that they are growing, developing and learning. So be sure to deliver a program of work for each team member that takes them forward in their skills and knowledge. Amplify this effect with positive feedback that emphasizes what they are learning and how they are developing. This will give them two things. First, they will see you endorse their progress – and some people need this kind of external validation, whilst others don’t. Second, it will be a way to show you are interested in them and their progress, and that you want them to succeed.

set up teams to succeed

Principle 4: People Want to Share Their Success

Human beings are social animals and for most of us, success on our own is cold, lonely, and demotivating. We need to share that success with others. Indeed, the need to build satisfying workplace relationships is a primary motivator for many people. Let’s not forget that, for full-time team members, they will spend more of their waking hours with their work colleagues than they will with their partners, families and others with whom they choose to spend their lives. For some, work colleagues form their primary social network.

Going Up

Beyond the need to feel part of a group, some people are strongly motivated by having a clear role within that group. Feeling we are needed is a strong human motivator. In some, this appears as a need for status and recognition of their knowledge, skills and contribution.

Where you can, reward people with formal badges of recognition. As a minimum, find ways to celebrate the successes of individuals (this will appeal to those with a stronger drive for status and respect) and of the team as a whole (which will appeal to those whose primary social motivator is to feel part of a group).

teams need to feel part of the project

For the Team

When team members feel a part of a team that they value, they will also feel a sense of responsibility to their colleagues. This often takes stronger forms, for which we use words like loyalty, duty, and obligation.

As a leader, you must work hard to create these powerful motivators, by building up a team spirit and feeling of coherence. Regular team activities, collaborative input into planning and decision-making, and some form of home base infrastructure (real or virtual) are all good ways to facilitate this.

Conclusion

There are a lot of things you can do to build motivation among team members as a group, and for each individual within the team. No one approach will work for everyone. As with much in project management, a portfolio approach is likely to succeed best.

My strongest advice is this. Don’t leave team motivation to chance. Make time to think it through. Get to know your team and plan how you will keep them motivated. Build a strong motivational resilience in the good times, and then work hard to maintain motivation when things get tough.

Come back next week for part two of our motivation series, this time focusing on self-motivation.

Nothing helps to motivate you better than knowing you have the right tool for the job. ProjectManager.com offers a robust suite of online features that help you plan, monitor and report on your project all in real time. See for yourself with a free 30-day trial.

 

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