Motivating Your Team

MotivationJust about every project management job description entails “motivating people who do not report to you”.  It’s clearly important, but how can you do it well?  The key is encouraging rather than squashing your team’s inherent self-motivation.  

Most people want to do their best.  This is especially true when team members maintain a strong sense of ownership in their work.  As a project manager, you can help foster that sense of ownership by:

1. Developing the project plan together

Not only will you get a more realistic plan, but you will reinforce everyone’s stake in the outcome.

2. Managing to milestones (stay out of the details!)

Critical path milestones help keep everyone focused on the bigger picture.  When a milestone is at risk, implications are clear and can help rally the team.  Conversely, tracking the status of every detailed task can obscure the big picture.  Even worse, it can easily become micromanagement and a time sink (big de-motivators!)

3. Asking for their help

There’s a BIG difference between telling someone what you need them to do, and asking them for their help.  For example: we were working with a vendor who was living up to their obligations.  We needed an extra day to review their work, which unfortunately gave them our feedback on a Friday.  If I had just told them what we needed them to do (e.g., “We need you to work the weekend to hold to our original schedule”), the response might have been indignant (e.g., “Why is your delay our problem?”).  Instead, I laid out the situation and asked if it was still possible for them to hold the original delivery date.  With the decision in their court, they stepped up to the plate and said they could, if there were no further delays.

4. Showing your appreciation

Everything from regular positive feedback all the way up through celebrations for a job well done can make a difference.  Positive feedback is free and easy to give, but also easy to forget.  You might think, “They’re great, but that goes without saying.”  WRONG.  What better way to motivate someone than to tell them how much you appreciate their work?

What motivation techniques work for you?  I look forward to hearing from you.

Mia Whitfield


1 thought on “Motivating Your Team”

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    I agree with all your points. Ownership is a big deal, referring to your points (1) and (2). I see (3) and (4) as relevant to servant leadership instead of using formal authority.

    One of the biggest mistakes a project manager can make is trying to use formal authority for motivation…it just doesn’t work. “I’m the project manager, you’ll do it because I said so.” Eeeek. I don’t care if they report to you or not, this is a mistake.

    I find Hertzberg’s hygiene/motivator factors theory helpful in coming up with ways to motivate individuals. You can also start with a theoretical model like Hertzberg’s or others like McClelland’s, etc. to brainstorm methods for motivation.

    Even though the various models are different in their approaches and techniques, a great motivational technique aligns with any of them worth their salt. You can also see how some stereotypical methods like pay increases or a ham at Christmas really do not fit any of the models, and they are not motivational in practice.

    Another interesting observation in Made to Stick was that people tend to cite higher-level motivators (in Maslow’s hierarchy) influence themselves, while we tend to think that lower-level motivators influence others. As they said in the book, we see ourselves in a self-actualization penthouse while everyone else is living in Maslow’s basement. This is why companies tend to do things like give out hams and bonuses, because they see people in the safety realm. Personally, anything I’ve done or seen done that was truly motivational for a team could be classified as belonging in the esteem or self-actualization sections of the pyramid.

    Josh Nankivel

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