About Us
Site Map
PMP® Certification
PM Tips & Tricks
PM Tools & Techniques
Contact Us



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 overcome.

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 meetings.

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 yourself.

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 restaurant.

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 part.

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 overtime.

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 Cause Analysis.

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 would like to learn more about certification, visit the three O Project Solutions website at: http://threeo.ca/pmpcertifications29.php. three O Project Solutions also offers a downloadable software based training tool that has prepared project managers around the world to pass their certification exams. For more information about this product, AceIt, visit the three O website at: http://threeo.ca/aceit-features-c1288.php.