How To Motivate Project Teams

TeamworkA team that is motivated to deliver their work is not only one that is “high performing” but also one that is great to be involved in. So is there anything different about project teams that make motivating them different to any other team?

Well, to start with a project team will, by definition, be in existence for only as long as the project rather than being a fixed group of individuals in a business unit. This in itself offers a project leader or manager a distinct advantage. How? Because the team is being brought together for one specific piece of work and, in theory, shouldn’t get distracted by the day-to-day tribulations than happen in organisations. OK, that might be a simplistic way of looking at things but it’s something that should never be forgotten by the project leader – providing focus and direction and maintaining it and continuing to communicate it throughout the life of the project is of huge benefit for team members.

The project leader has the opportunity at the start to develop a team spirit and cohesiveness around the project’s purpose and deliverables. The thing about working on a project is that everything is transparent, or at least it should be. Project progress meetings will identify what’s been done and what needs to be done – everything is in the open and team members, while being held to account, will have an appreciation of what’s happening across the entire project. Not knowing how your work contributes to the whole project is a big demotivator so keeping things open can be a real motivator for project team members. This applies to projects large and small especially with the tools and applications available today to help project team members in different countries keep track of overall progress.

Difficulties of course arise when a new project leader takes over an existing team. In this case the team needs to take responsibility for getting that leader up to speed just as much as the leader needs to be proactive and quickly get an understanding of not only the project specifics but how the project team itself works, it’s culture and how it responds to difficulties and change. In many ways it’s another round of Tuckman’s Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing model of team performance. Indeed, the additional Mourning stage might need to be taken into consideration if the previous team leader was particularly well thought of.

Some might say that project team members are simply there for the money, an accusation often aimed at self-employed contractors. There may be an element of truth in that but a wise project leader will also know that money isn’t a motivator in its own right and that regardless of how team members are recruited and remunerated it makes absolute sense to foster a thorough understanding of project needs and ensuring everyone has a good understanding of where their part of the puzzle fits in the bigger picture.

So is that it – just two things that are needed to motivate project teams? Well, providing focus and direction and knowing what your contribution means are important but they must be backed up with excellent communication. The project leader who is able to explain clearly in writing and verbally what needs to be done and why, praises when praise is due and encourages improvement when that is needed will, by the very way they operate encourage those working for them. Oh yes, that communication needs to be with external stakeholders too – taking the lead in those interactions and if needs be, protecting the project team from unnecessary interference.

So, try these three ways to improve the motivation in your project team:

  1. providing focus and direction throughout the life of the project
  2. fostering a culture of transparency of performance across the project team
  3. ensuring continual communication with project team members and stakeholders

If you can get these three aspects of project leadership working you’re on the right track to building a well-motivated project team.


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