Team Productivity

10 Motivational Questions to Inspire Your Project Teams

Sarah Hansen
August 14, 2014
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Words. They have so much power, don’t they? They can inspire or incinerate.

The words you use around your people create deeper impact than you may realize. Top project managers understand how to motivate their teams to reach rewarding heights. They move from manager to mentor by, among other things, asking the right questions.

Here are 10 questions top project managers say to empower their team.

1. Will you help me solve this?

Remember the value of synergy? It means that together we can do more.

Maybe you’ve already decided in your mind how you want to approach a project. However, your team also has great ideas!

The worst thing you can do as a team leader is try to sell your employees on your idea. Instead of just handing out marching orders, let them help you solve it.

People are much more likely to take ownership of concepts when they have a hand in creating them. They feel that their work is their baby, not just someone's annoying kid that they have to keep from destroying the house! After all, don’t you tolerate things your own kids do better than that strange baby crying on the plane?

It’s the same thing with a project. You'll find your team tolerates the bumps in the road much better when they feel that they had a hand in generating the initial direction.

2. What's the purpose, not just the potential profit?

We get it. Everyone wants to make a profit. That’s a given for any business.

However, great leaders see beyond the obvious to the underlying factors that truly inspire their people. People want validation.

They want to know that their hard work makes a difference. They want to know the bigger impact that their special knowledge and insights bring to the overall picture. They also want to align themselves with a company or movement that understands their values.

For example, IKEA understood how to inspire their employees and customers by embracing their values over their profit. In 1995, they discovered some of their factories that manufactured their carpets were exploiting child labor. Ingvar Kampard, the founder of IKEA, and his team took immediate action and made sure their company would never again work with manufacturers that exploited children.

They then partnered with UNICEF to create a program that would stop child labor by targeting the underlying conditions that allowed it to thrive: poverty, illiteracy, and hunger. This program now helps more than 500 villages in India’s Carpet Belt, with an estimated population of 1.3 million.

How motivated do you think those employees were to work for IKEA after this occurred?

3. What can we learn?

No one likes a lecture. When things go wrong, many times the first thing people want to do is to dive in with their narration. That does nothing to inspire people.

When you're faced with obstacles brought on by the work or lack of training in your team, turn from telling to teaching, from lecturing to listening, and from chastising to coaching.

People generally want to do well. Asking questions and getting their perspective can go a long way to turning a tough moment into an opportunity to help a person grow.

The best communicators do not talk at someone, they relate with them. They often let them come to conclusions themselves.

If someone has messed up, they generally know it. It is a much softer experience for them to take responsibility.

Remember, the person in control of a conversation is not the one who talks over the other person or dominates the airtime. It’s the person who knows how to ask the right questions in a non-threatening manner and brings about lasting improvements.

4. What can I learn about you to help you succeed?

Do you like cooking? Even if the best thing you’ve made in the kitchen is microwaveable mac and cheese, you understand the value of a recipe in order to make a masterpiece. Yet, many people just follow the recipe, but don’t get to know their ingredients individually.

A passionate chef understands the deeper flavors and tones of each ingredient separately, so when all ingredients come together, the results will be spectacular. A chef that knows each ingredient often easily creates his own recipes, instead of following a cookbook.

Now, take that concept to creating the right team for your project. If you take the time to understand more about your people than their job titles, you are in a better position to grow each member individually in ways you never could if you were just picking this person because you needed to fill a slot.

Maybe your programmer also has a very creative side that they are want to express that goes beyond writing code. If you show people that you are willing to explore their careers at a deeper level, they will reward you with renewed innovation and passion.

Unless you dig deeper and try to study others to determine what you can learn from them, you will always be following someone's cookbook, and not creating a new standard for excellence.

5. How can we implement innovation with new ideas?

Don’t get me wrong; your team should still be involved in idea creation. However, once they’ve come up with an idea, empower them to implement it. This will turn your team into innovators.

People want to impact a project personally and get their hands dirty. Give them the right training and tools, give them the ownership, and let them take part in the exciting journey of bringing their ideas to life.

You'll see your team instinctively challenge themselves to bring more innovation to their roles and increase the overall caliber of your company.

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6. What was the significance of this action, not just the success of it?

Everyone wants to be successful. Yet, to really inspire your people and increase the performance of your project, you need to look for the deeper significance that ripples past the success.

You could implement this concept by discussing both “success” and “significance” in your employee reviews.

For example, you could talk about the success of an employee’s sales record. But, to really motivate them, measure where that success took your company. Tell them what you were able to do with the revenue that they brought in.

Maybe you were able to hire more people to spearhead a new project or outreach. Maybe you were able to upgrade equipment, making the working environment better for everyone.

Make sure they understand the impact that their success made on the company and that they feel your gratitude for a job well done.

7. How can I inspire ownership, not only accountability?

Everyone is accountable to someone. Accountability alone does nothing to inspire.

When people take ownership, the entire project and team benefit. In order to give other team members ownership, you have to show them you trust and believe in them. Some project managers have trouble giving away control or authority, but to reinvigorate your team, it's an absolute necessity.

One way to bring this idea to life is to give people side projects. Outline expectations for the end result, but allow them to call the shots on their project.

You can also meet with them weekly to mentor them or make sure they have all the tools that they need to be successful. This is also a great way to get to know hidden talents within your people.

8. How can we earn respect, not just recognition?

Everyone loves recognition. It's certainly needed to help people feel valued.

However, people can also become recognition addicts who crave the next company award and will do anything to get it.

Retrain your employees on the value of respect over recognition. When people respect you, it does more to inspire the best in others and create a positive outcome for the team than an award that gathers dust on a shelf. 

Recognition can become very “I” focused, while respect must be earned from teammates. Set the example as their leader, and help others learn the value that respect can bring to everyone.

9. How can we focus more on personal growth and not just responsibility?

When leaders desire to inspire people to greater heights, they usually add to their responsibility. This is still a viable option, but piling on more work without mentorship can also create burnout.

Continue to encourage personal growth in the form of training, networking, and performance development. Don’t be afraid to buy your teammates a good business book that will help inspire them all to continue learning.

10. How can I create more trust, not just transparency?

Your people need to know that you believe in them. If you show them you've put your faith in them, they will do everything they can to not let you down.

To gain trust, you have to give trust. You should always be transparent with people, but that’s not always enough.

If you don’t convey that you believe they're vital to your company, that they matter, and that you care about them as individuals, you will never bring them to their full potential. If your team members feel like you have their back, they will be inspired to bring you their best.

Start every day with the goal to ask one of these insightful questions to at least one person, and watch how this daily habit can invigorate your team.