Motivating your project team

Motivation Concept

It is recognised by pretty much everyone that a highly motivated team will out perform most other teams, even those better qualified and more experienced ones. Their level of motivation drives them to out perform. To do whatever it takes to get the job done and deliver a quality solution.

A quick search on Google produced the following definition of motivation “”The desire or willingness to do something; enthusiasm”. Now we can be motivated to avoid bad things like pain, threats to our life etc. But these are short term motivators to protect us. The motivators that drive a team’s performance over a long period of time are determined by other factors.

So how do you build a highly motivated team? Or more likely, how do you turn your existing team into a highly motivated team?

Before you can motivate your team, you need to look at and understand the environment in which the team is working. That environment comprises things like:

  • How the team is treated
  • How are they supervised or managed
  • What their working conditions and facilities are like
  • The appropriateness or adequacy of their remuneration

Nobody likes going to work if they feel they are badly under paid, or if the office they work in is damp and dingy, or if the boss is always shouting at them or their colleagues. The late Fred Hertzberg referred to these as hygiene factors. They can inhibit motivation, but they are not motivators in themselves. They take away pain from the team member so they are open to motivation.

The carrot or the stick

carrot and stickMany people think of money as a motivator and in the short term, it does have motivational characteristics. It can induce people to achieve, to strive to do better, to perform. This is the carrot.  I can entice you or ‘bribe’ you to do something by giving you more money.

But unless you keep feeding the motivation with ever increasing sums, the motivation will wane. The money becomes a hygiene factor to sustain a lifestyle. Many highly paid business people have enough money so they could retire tomorrow and still maintain their lifestyles. They don’t retire because something else motivates them. The responsibility, the challenge, the power and influence. These are their real motivators.

We are all familiar with the bully boss. They use the stick to get you to do things. They put you in fear for your job and make you work long hours. You are motivated by that fear, but only to avoid the negative consequences. That motivation will never generate positive enthusiasm. Those team members will jump ship to another project or even another company should the opportunity arise. They will never be part of a highly motivated team in that environment.

So the first step to creating a highly motivated team is creating the right environment. Remove the distractions from the workplace and give motivation the opportunity to breathe and grow. Now it is about the people in the team.

Ability and Opportunity

To motivate a team to do something, they have to have the ability to do it, or at least the desire to do it and the ability to learn how to do it. In fact, the best results often come from someone put in to a job that stretches them. That they have the ability to grow in to. The right training at the right time is critical to the success and motivation of the team member. Next they must have the opportunity to do that something. There is nothing more frustrating than having a set of skills that you want to use but can’t get the opportunity to do so.

With ability and opportunity come the motivational factors:

  • a sense of achievement
  • recognition
  • meaningful and interesting work
  • increased responsibility
  • personal growth and enhancement

Building a highly motivated team doesn’t happen over night. Getting the hygiene factors right can take a lot of work. You also have to learn about the team, their strengths and weaknesses, their abilities and development needs and then match those against the requirements of the project. Not everything that needs to be done will, in itself, be something people are motivated to do. But in a highly motivated team these tasks get swept up and delivered as part of the bigger picture.

Not everyone can be motivated, but some will surprise you. There are some people whose only real motivations lie outside the workplace. The whole of their working life is merely a hygiene factor to allow them to do the external things that do motivate them. If possible, you need to identify and remove these people from the team. They are baggage that will drag the team down. Some baggage is inevitable and can be tolerated. And sometimes people that are not normally motivated at work become motivated when they see the buzz generated by a highly motivated and effective team. They get caught up in the excitement the team can generate.


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