Project Management

3 Project Management Tips on How to Motivate Your Team

Brett Harned
July 30, 2015
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Read through just about any job description for project management jobs and you’ll find “Motivate the team” as a part of the responsibilities. It’s a persistent part of any PM job—no matter the industry or type of project you’re working on.

Yet most project managers struggle with how to motivate their teams. After all, how can you motivate a team without having total control of the team and their career paths, and the vision for the product?

It’s easy: You have to want to do this part of your job. Well, maybe that’s not enough. Check out these 3 tips to motivate your team and create a winning project atmosphere.

1. Don’t be a “box checker” project manager

Many project managers are so caught up in their to-do lists and project plans they tend to focus on dates, reports, hours, and budgets. They want to check off an action item or milestone and keep things moving, regardless of relevant conversations, debate, or changes.

Sure, they’re doing their jobs in that respect because they're tasked with keeping projects on schedule. But the box-checkers are forgetting that PEOPLE make the work happen.

You’re not controlling an army of robots to bring a project to completion. You’re managing a group of talented people who have lives outside of your project—people who want to do good work with you, not for you.

If you nag your teammates and ask meaningless questions about project mechanics—and ignore the bigger picture project ideas—they’ll see that you’re completely disengaged and lose faith in you.

Take advantage of your great project management communication skills and build relationships with your team. If you truly engage with people—and with your project—on a more meaningful level, you'll find that people will not only engage with you on a new level. They'll trust you with more information and work and will want to help you keep your projects in check.

It all comes down to good communication skills. If you can be comfortable being yourself, communicate with others comfortably, and understand all the ins and outs of your project, you’ll find yourself at ease—and your team will be motivated to produce great work on time and within the project budget.

2. Share some personal productivity tips with your team

Believe it or not, most of your team don’t think like a project manager! So why not help them to understand some PM basics and help them apply those basics to their own personal workflow?

With just a few simple tips, you can get your team organized and motivated to meet personal and project goals. Here are a few quick tips you can share:

  • Involve them in estimating project tasks. Sharing simple ideas about how their work was scoped and how they can begin to break down their own tasks with a simple tool like a work breakdown structure can be immensely helpful to a non-PM. The first time you see them break one task down into steps and apply a time estimate to it, you’ll see a lightbulb go off. Then you’ll start to see the benefits of allowing your team to estimate work—through met deadlines and budgets.
  • Create internal work plans. It’s simple: If you’ve got a deadline to deliver a document to a client on Friday, set up a few short checkpoints. This helps you avoid looking like a box-checker, and it will motivate the team to get work done in advance to share with the team and collect feedback. It’ll also make the final product a lot stronger, because you’re enforcing a level of collaboration and peer review.
  • Set up a RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) chart. This ensures everyone on the team is 100% in the know about who's doing what and when. It might take a bit of time to set this one up, but the time spent will pay off. In the end, projects with RACI matrices avoid confusion about ownership and review and create a project culture of accountability and open communication.

Only you know your team, so do what you think is appropriate and will help them with team and personal productivity. Just be sure to not push it on them too hard. The last thing you want to do is enforce a practice that doesn’t feel right for an individual or the team.

Be supportive and help the team be more productive, and that will motivate them to come up with their own practices to meet deadlines and inspire motivation.

3. Be motivated

If you’re not feeling excited about your work or the project, chances are, no one else will. So how do you motivate yourself?

Motivation is all about a feeling—an emotion. Maintaining a positive outlook can be tough as a project manager, especially if you’re on the front lines of bad news and difficult conversations. The best way to stay positive in the face of adversity is to:

  • Look for the positive aspects in negative news (the “silver lining,” if you will)
  • Keep your tasks tracked in a to-do list. Checking those off can be really great, especially if you reward yourself for a job well done. (Ahem, ice cream, anyone?)
  • Put important PM tasks in a shared to-do list. There is nothing like a little peer pressure to keep you motivated to get your work done.
  • Set at-home negativity aside and focus on your work.
  • Keep your focus on personal goals and outcomes. (Is it a raise, a promotion, a vacation?)
  • Keep a project diary and think about writing a blog post on some of your project findings. Any little side project that still keeps you focused on your work can keep you moving in the right direction.

Above anything else, wanting to be a great project manager who leads a team to a successful project delivery should keep you motivated.

Nothing feels better than finishing a project and feeling like you gave it your all. Sure, times can get tough when you’re in the heat of any project, but if you think about getting that project (and the experience) under your belt, you’ll feel great.

Project Manager/Motivator

At the end of the day, you’re responsible for keeping yourself AND your team motivated to complete your projects successfully. It’s no easy feat, but with just a few tweaks in the way you work and communicate, you can be the most positive person you ever knew. Give it a try, see if your motivation spreads, and take note of how great it’ll make you feel.

Check out Chapter 9 of the Guide to Project Management for more tips and ideas on how to better engage your project teams.

More reading: Project management tips from the world's leading digital project managers.

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