Tips on How to Motivate the Project Team
Motivation is a key tool for
building the project team you need to deliver the goals and objectives of your
project. It’s a fact that a motivated team can often perform above its
collective abilities and deliver results that no-one thought them capable of.
Readers who are hockey fans (and who are old enough) may remember the
"miracle on ice” in 1980 when the United States amateur hockey team beat
the previously invincible Russian hockey team by a score of 4 to 3 and went on
to win the gold medal.
Everyone believed that the
Russians would win the gold medal in the 1980 Winter Olympics, just like they
had every Olympics but one since 1956. Everyone but Herb Brooks and his team of
amateur and collegiate players that is. Brooks took his team of unkowns and not
only convinced them they could play with the Russians, but that they could beat
them. Hockey fans know where Herb Brooks went from there. A highly successful
coaching career in the NHL that included the New York Rangers, Minnesota North
Stars, the New Jersey Devils, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
You don’t have to choose an
example from the world of sports to illustrate the difference that motivation
can have on team performance. If you prefer to take your example from politics,
look at the influence that Winston Churchill’s speeches had on the morale of Great Britain
in the early years of WWII. Or staying with the WWII theme, look at how George S. Pattonmotivated his troops and their accomplishments, for example the incredible
march to relieve the besieged troops at Bastoigne. The reason I’ve chosen a
sports coach as my example is the focus placed on motivation.
If you want to coach in the
"big leagues” in the project management game, here are a few do’s and
don’ts for motivating your team.
Do Start your projects with a kickoff meeting as an
opportunity to instill your team with a sense of self-confidence. I don’t mean
that you should hide the difficulties and challenges that lie ahead. Be honest
with the team about any challenges, but assure them of your confidence that
their abilities are equal to the challenges. This is also the time to educate
the team on your strategy for delivering the project goals and objectives. Tell
the team why you have confidence in them. Refer to past successes and obstacles
Do Believe in your team’s ability to meet or
exceed your goals and objectives. Start by choosing the members you think will
be the best fit with your team. These members do not have to be the "all
stars”. You are looking for competent workers who can add value to the team,
not someone who will put their own goals and objectives ahead of the team’s. Be
selfish when selecting team members. Unless you are also directing the PMO there will be
someone else responsible for looking after the best interests of the company.
Do Be a motivational speaker when speaking with
the team. You don’t have to be an ex-President or George S. Patton to be a
successful motivational speaker. Believing in your team’s ability to accomplish
the tasks you have set for them should come through loud and clear at your team
Do Set reasonable goals and objectives for the
team. Nothing will de-motivate a team faster than finding out they have been
given targets you do not expect them to achieve. Validate your targets with the
team and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) outside the team. Remember what you are
looking for is not easy targets, but demanding ones that hard work and
expertise will meet.
Do Set "stretch” objectives for the team.
These are the objectives that the team will strive for after they have met the
project’s goals and objectives. For example, your project may need to deliver
that web site to market by July 31st to coincide with the
competition’s launch but getting out there by June 30th will allow
you to steal some business away. Buffer your critical path so that if none of
the buffers is touched the project will deliver by June 30th.
Stretch objectives should be feasible but more difficult to achieve than the
project goals and objectives. Achieving the "stretch” objectives should be
recognized by the organization as an outstanding achievement.
Do Celebrate the achievement of smaller
"stretch” goals and objectives with the team. Celebrations should be team
celebrations and should be proportional to the magnitude of the achievement.
Take suggestions from the team on how to celebrate but make the final decision
Do Reward the team for achieving "stretch”
objectives. For example, if your team just met a challenging deadline by
working lots of overtime, reward them by giving them tickets to a movie or play,
or even by giving them an afternoon off.
Do Delegate motivational responsibilities to
team leaders, or junior project managers where your project team is made up of
sub-teams. You should take responsibility for setting the overall motivational
tone, defining appropriate rewards, funding rewards from the project budget,
and setting "stretch” objectives, but you should empower your team leads,
or sub project managers to set "stretch” objectives within your plan and
to decide on appropriate rewards for their team.
Do Use individual awards to motivate the team.
My personal favorite for this approach is the Spot Award. The Spot Award is a
an award given to an individual who has performed above and beyond your
expectations. A good example of performance that merits a Spot Award is someone
who sacrifices their own time to give a team member help with a difficult
problem. Just make sure they have accomplished their own work first. Make the
spot award significant. Using a free cup of coffee or a free ticket to see a
movie is hardly appropriate for an action that may have saved the goals and
objectives of a multi-million dollar project! I have used gift vouchers for 2
(the team member and their spouse or significant other) to their favourite
Do Celebrate awards with the rest of the team
and project stakeholders. Spot awards, or other types of individual awards, are
among the things that "went well” on your project and deserve a spot in
project progress reports.
Do Engage senior executives to do award presentations.
As influential a person as you may be, there is always someone more influential
in your organization because of their position or history. Don’t hesitate to
ask these people for their help in presenting these awards. Once you’ve
explained the awards and what the specific award is for, you’ll find your
executive will want to contribute by presenting the award or at least taking
Do Look for opportunities to improve your
public speaking skills. All great motivational speakers have one thing in
common, they are great public speakers first. There are many companies that
offer good public speaking courses, such as Dale Carnegie. Toastmasters is
another resource to check out. It offers a more hands-on approach to teaching
candidates to speak in public.
Do Get help from your Human Resources
organization to facilitate awards, rewards, etc. Motivation of employees should
be one of the core competencies of your HR organization, engage them and
maximize their contribution to motivating your team. They will likely have
valuable experience in the tools and techniques that work well in your
organization, and just as importantly, the ones that don’t.
Do Take ownership and responsibility for the
team’s performance. Don’t attempt to deflect criticism to the team if someone
criticizes your project’s progress. Take ownership of the results; don’t be
afraid to admit to bad planning or a failure to communicate goals and
objectives effectively. Defend the team and individual team members from
undeserved public criticism. Even when criticism is warranted, make it plain to
the critic that you have full confidence in the criticized team member despite
the mistake. Good leaders motivate by demonstrating a willingness to serve as a
"heat shield”, deflecting heat away from the team.
Don’t Attempt to motivate your team with fear.
Although fear can be a great motivator, it only motivates for very brief
periods of time. Don’t attempt to hide or downplay the negative consequences of
failing to meet project goals and objectives but never use those consequences
as a threat.
Don’t Attempt to motivate your team until you have
created a plan that the team can follow with a reasonable expectation of
success. Your team is looking to you to provide leadership, in this case a
solid plan, and not just hot air. Putting your team to work on a plan that you
have no faith in yourself is a sure way to de-motivate the team.
Don’t Set targets for individuals on the team that
they cannot meet. If you have assigned a key piece of coding to a senior
programmer because that code is on the critical path and you have planned a
short turnaround for completion, don’t assign the work to a junior programmer
with the same deadline when the senior programmer goes on maternity leave.
Don’t Attempt to hide or minimize the obstacles or
challenges your team faces. Be as accurrate as possible in your description
without over-emphasizing the degree of difficulty.
Don’t Reward individuals or sub-teams on your team
differently. The perception that you cannot expect an award for doing the same
things that earned another team member (or a team member on another sub-team)
an award will de-motivate your team in a hurry. Divide and conquer is a great
strategy when dealing with your enemies, not with your team.
Don’t Give out awards inappropriately. I’m not
referring to the award ceremony here, I’m referring to giving the award to an
undeserving recipient. For example, when someone meets their "stretch”
objective, but does so because they asked for and received help from another
team member, don’t reward that person for seeking the help. If you reward
anyone, let it be the person who provided the help. Don’t reward anyone for
cleaning up there own mess either. The classic example here is the person who
wastes time gossiping, twittering, YouTubing, or surfing the web until they are
in a deep hole and then pulls the deadline off by working excessive amounts of
Don’t Take no for an answer when exploring the
possibilities for motivational strategies. If your Human Resources
representative tells you you can’t implement a Spot Award program for your
project because the organization has never done this before, go to your
Executive Sponsor and ask for their help in implementing your program. Awards
and rewards will be all the more motivating if your team sees that you had to
fight tooth and nail for them.
Don’t Treat a failure to meet a "stretch”
objective as an opportunity to "finger point” when the team, or team
member, has done the best they could do to meet the goal or objective. This
doesn’t mean that mistakes are ignored, rather that mistakes are treated
pragmatically. Mistakes that cost money or time should be addressed with a Root
The list of do’s and
don’ts is rather long. Don’t let this prevent you from implementing your first
motivational trick. You’ll find your motivational tool kit gets larger with
each new technique you try. Remember the old saw: "How do you eat an
elephant? One forkful at a time”The tips and tricks described in this article implement some of the best
practices promoted by the PMI (Project Management Institute). These are taught
in most PMP® courses, or PMP®® (Project Management Professional) by the PMI and
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