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One of the crucial reasons behind project success is high project team motivation. As per Finextra.com, organizations with higher-than-average levels of employee engagement see 27% higher profits, 50% higher sales, 50% higher customer loyalty levels, and 38% above-average productivity.

I worked for a small but enterprising company about two decades ago. Our ambition was to become a leading software product development company. We organized a three-day corporate offsite workshop to discuss the company's growth strategies.

We discussed and brainstormed various growth strategies during the workshop. All growth strategies pointed to one thing—engage the stakeholders and keep the employees motivated. Since most of our revenue came from executing projects, we decided to focus on inspiring and motivating project team members.

In the last two decades, I have led many project teams and experimented with techniques that spur and inspire people. I have also taught standard motivational strategies that are helpful in team building.

Let's discuss the importance of project team motivation and the ten most essential techniques to engage project teams.

The Importance of Project Team Motivation

One of the ways to ensure success in a project is by motivating team members. A new project always starts with high spirits—new relationships are formed, objectives are defined, and everyone looks forward to something new.

However, as the project progresses, things do not remain as rosy as they were in the beginning—changes start coming in, technology becomes challenging, stress levels increase, and overall, things turn hostile. All this reduces the motivation of the team.

According to Gallup, the majority of the U.S. workforce (65%) is not engaged, which is not a good sign for businesses.

infographic with stats about employee motivation and engagement
The statistics on employee engagement don't paint a very good picture (source).
  • Highly engaged departments see an 81% difference in absenteeism and a 14% difference in productivity.
  • Within organizations with high turnover, highly engaged departments achieve an 18% difference in turnover.
  • In organizations with lower turnover, the gains are even more dramatic: Highly engaged departments achieve a 43% difference in turnover.
  • Highly engaged departments achieve a 10% difference in customer ratings and an 18% in sales.
  • The behaviors of highly engaged departments result in a 23% difference in profitability.

The primary role of a project manager is to build a high level of motivation and inspire team members right from the inception of the project and maintain it throughout. 

Find more project management statistics here.

Techniques for Project Team Motivation

1. Set Realistic Goals

You should start your project by defining key project goals and team goals. Make sure to define clear goals and involve senior team members while defining them. Once the goals are defined, you should convert them into measurable objectives.

Goals and objectives are different. Goals are like vision statements, which define the project outcomes. They summarize the purpose of the project.

Objectives are different from goals as they can be baselined and measured. Goals, on the other hand, are usually extensive and cannot be measured.

You can use the SMART framework (as described below) to write practical project objectives:

  • Specific: Objectives should be precise and to the point. There is no ambiguity or confusion.
  • Measurable: Ensure that the objectives have some numbers that can be easily measured. You should be able to assess how much has been completed and how much is remaining.
  • Achievable: Objectives should be realistic and achievable. Absurd and unrealistic objectives can discourage and demotivate people. Don't aim for Everest when you only need to climb a hilltop.
  • Relevant: Define objectives that are aligned to project outcomes and organizational goals. Focus on what is needed rather than what is good to have.
  • Time-bound: Always have a defined timeline for your objectives. This communicates the time constraints to the team members and allows them to manage and prioritize their tasks effectively.

After you have set goals and defined objectives, you should share them with your team. Nothing is as demotivating for the team as unclear objectives. People become demoralized and get into conflicts when project managers cannot assign responsibilities or define deadlines. This can further lead to time and cost overruns, which in turn can cause client dissatisfaction.

When sharing the objectives, try to be as direct as possible. Talk directly to your team members, define their roles, and assign them specific responsibilities. Try to eliminate any confusion right at the beginning of the project. 

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2. Be a Team Leader

Leadership is different from management. Management is about consistently producing results, but leadership entails motivating people so that they trust and support you.

Management can be thought of as managing numbers, templates, graphs, charts, and computer systems, but leadership is about involving and engaging people. Project managers should not think of people as numbers (even though the number of team members can be counted).

Leadership skills include soft skills like the ability to effectively communicate, negotiate, solve problems, and lead by example.

As a team leader, you should do all of the following things throughout the project:

  1. Keep yourself motivated: If you are the project manager, everything begins with you. Team members will follow you; they will not be enthusiastic and motivated about the project if they feel that their project manager is not motivated enough. However, if you are positive, your positive attitude will rub off on others. They will love you if you remain positive and stand firm with them in a crisis.
  2. Lead by example: You must always strive to lead by example. People always watch and observe their managers with keen interest. They will tend to follow what you are doing—be direct, honest, and transparent in all your transactions. Enjoy your work and encourage others to do so.
  3. Be human: Team members will trust you if you are kind to them and understand their problems. Everyone has the desire to be heard, recognized, and appreciated. Simple gestures like a pat on the back and a congratulatory message can go a long way to demonstrate that you genuinely care for them and value their work.
  4. Be clear and direct: You should be transparent and direct in all your communications. Communication must be unambiguous. At the same time, try to create an open project environment where people can discuss their concerns without fear.
  5. Praise your team members: Maintain a steady flow of constructive feedback and celebrate little wins. Thank the team members for their excellent work, which will make them feel appreciated and inspired.

3. Keep Communication Channels Open

The most important characteristics of a team environment are openness and tolerance. Team members, whether junior or senior, should not hesitate to voice their opinions. They should be able to put forth their viewpoints regardless of how contentious they may be.

Team members should be able to approach and contact their reporting managers freely. To keep an open environment, project managers should use different communication mechanisms like emails, telephone calls, and in-person meetings. A communication plan should be made early on in the project.

If any one method of communication is not working, then there should be other ways to communicate with the reporting manager. The staff members should feel that their manager is flexible and easily accessible.

People who feel comfortable sharing their opinions will be more active, involved, and innovative. Additionally, having an open and transparent working environment can help you identify certain implicit assumptions made by the team members that could harm the overall quality of work.

At the same time, it is equally essential that team members can discuss and share their viewpoints without any hesitation. 

4. Gauge Team Performance and Hold Regular Reviews

One in three professionals cites boredom as the main reason for quitting (source).

Most companies have a yearly employee appraisal program, but this is often not enough to motivate project team members.

As a project manager, you should hold regular and periodic review meetings with your team members. The frequency of meetings could be monthly, fortnightly, or even weekly, depending on your project's circumstances. During these meetings, you should have a dialogue with them to provide them with formal feedback and understand their viewpoints.

These meetings should be used to provide constructive feedback, which can help achieve project goals and individual personal growth. You should thank your team members and give compliments when required. Tell them how their hard work has helped the project.

Through these meetings, you can forge a stronger bond with your team members and make them feel connected.

The periodic review sessions should be started right at the beginning of the project so that the team is ready to receive both positive and negative feedback throughout the project.

The periodic review meetings can be juxtaposed with informal meetings, which can help give direct and straightforward feedback to the team members in a light and casual manner.

You can also listen to this DPM podcast episode to understand how to give better feedback.

5. Know Your Team and Encourage Teamwork

Employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel ready to do their best work (source).

Since every person is unique, the project managers must create a personal bond with each team member. They should connect with each team member individually and as a team.

This can be done by being aware of each team member's personality. Could you encourage them to ask questions? Engage in meaningful conversations with them and discover what motivates them, explicitly concerning their jobs.

Additionally, project managers should develop a capacity to assess, identify, and manage their personal feelings toward their team members. They should decrease the tension and improve collaboration with their team members by taking note of their concerns and anticipating their actions.

Team members will trust and respect their reporting manager when they know that the manager understands their likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses. They will feel inspired and motivated while interacting with the manager.

Having a good rapport with each team member can help in dealing with that person's specific situation.

Project managers could become the central figure who can empower their team by creating a supportive atmosphere that encourages them to be a part of it to each other. They should use a leading team management software to streamline the work. This will help everyone to connect and participate in teamwork. 

6. Manage Conflict

Project conflicts happen for many reasons, such as resource requirements, scheduling priorities, and personal working styles, but all conflicts must be resolved. Otherwise, they can cause disenchantment and demotivation among team members.

Good project management practices like project planning, role clarity, realistic goals, resource management, regular communication, and transparency can reduce the frequency of conflict, but conflicts still happen. 

Project managers should deal with conflicts quickly and usually in private. They can employ one of the six main methods to resolve conflicts. The resolution should be made with an open and collaborative approach.

Project success depends on the capacity of project managers and their teams to resolve the conflict. Effective conflict management techniques lead to higher productivity and harmonious working relationships. If the difference of opinion is appropriately managed, it can result in more creativity and better decision-making.

If the dispute disrupts the working relationship, then formal procedures like disciplinary actions can be employed. 

7. Perform Team Building Exercises

Regular team-building exercises are good for stimulating and reinvigorating the project team environment. This can be easily done by organizing small get-togethers and celebrating successes.

Celebrations should happen after a project. In addition, the completion of small milestones should also be celebrated.

Team members feel more motivated and inspired and put more effort into their work when praised for their contributions. Celebrations give an excellent excuse to praise team members.

Your celebrations could be as simple as going out for coffee or organizing a luncheon.

You can also read our article on building high performance teams to understand the nuances of team building exercises.

8. Reward and Recognition

39% of employees feel that they aren’t appreciated at work as much as they should be, with 77% stating that they would work harder if they were better recognized (source).

People are motivated when their reporting managers appreciate them. Recognition and rewards go a long way in showing appreciation.

Many organizations believe that money is the only way to reward team members, but more is needed. Intangible rewards can work as well as tangible monetary benefits.

People feel motivated when they are allowed to learn, involved in higher responsibility tasks, appreciated in public, made responsible for project goals, and assigned to manage complex problems. Project managers should appreciate their team members throughout the project instead of waiting until it is complete.

Project managers should keep in mind that every person is different. They should learn about their preferences and provide them with what they want. 

9. Trust Your Team Members

Trust is a crucial ingredient for creating a productive team environment. Even though trust is a hazy idea, it has a powerful impact on team motivation.

Trust begets trust. If you trust your team members, they, too, will trust you.

Project managers should not micromanage. They should believe in the skills of their team members and let them finish the job independently. They should regularly tell their staff that they have confidence in their abilities.

A project manager that attempts to control every single moment and every single choice of team members will eventually degrade their self-confidence and affect their motivation. You can read our detailed article on building trust among project teams to find out techniques for trust building. 

10. Impart Training

Globally, 6 in every 10 employees believe that on-the-job training allows them to be more accommodating of change (Source).

Training not only increases the skills and competence of the team members but also enhances their motivation. Training, whether formal or informal, is beneficial for lifting their morale. Continuous learning motivates people to take on higher responsibilities and contribute more.

Project managers must ensure that the staff is equipped with the proper tools and commensurate training. It will make them feel confident and enable them to complete their tasks successfully.

You can't expect people to achieve project goals unless they have the requisite knowledge to do their job.

Training can be imparted in many ways: online, in a classroom, computer-based, on-the-job, mentoring, and coaching. You can join our project management training to master the skills needed for project success. 

What’s Next?

As an experienced project manager, you would know the importance of various project management tools like the project charter, the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), the network diagram, and risk registers. You would also know that more than these tools are needed to motivate and inspire team members.

The project manager must find a way to spur the team members to stay focused and overcome the hurdles, especially when things do not turn up as planned.

Projects do not always move along the expected lines. There are always some surprises and setbacks. A project manager's interpersonal and inspirational skills are more important to finish the project successfully.

Higher-level skills like communication management and conflict resolution can motivate and sustain your team members, which will create the real difference between mediocre results and successful projects.

Here are a few other related articles and videos that you might find useful:

  1. How To Motivate An Overworked Team
  2. How to Manage People Without Them Even Knowing It
  3. How To Manage Sloppy Teams
  4. Remote Project Management Best Practices & Strategies

In your opinion, which motivation technique from the above list is most useful? Have you used any other technique that has given you good results?

Please leave a comment below and also share this article with your colleagues.

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By Praveen Malik

Praveen Malik, PMP, has 27+ years of global experience as a project management instructor and consultant. He regularly conducts project management workshops and shares his project management thinking in his eponymous blog PM-by-PM.

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