The torch has been passed to Brett as he kicks off the final episode of season 1 with Nate and John to talk about team motivation. It’s a tough topic because it depends a lot on the individual. What motivates one person may have an adverse effect on another. So how do you crack the code? In this episode, we talk about what’s worked for us. Join us as we explore:

  • What motivates individuals and teams
  • Setting goals and tracking them—and empowering people to accomplish them
  • How project managers can motivate teams
  • Sharing your mission and how that can be a motivator
  • Being a humble leader

Links or resources mentioned in this episode:

About our guest


Episode Transcript


Brett Harned:       Welcome to another episode of Time Limit, the podcast by TeamGantt that's about making the most of our limited time on projects. All teams have a limited amount of time to work each week, and it's important that we learn to make the most of it. Today we're going to talk about a bunch of practical tips that managers and leaders can start using today to improve motivation on their team. First, let's talk about why motivation's important. Nathan, do you have any thoughts on that?

Nathan Gilmore:     Motivation affects everything, I think. When we talk about the limited amount of time we have, I think motivation plays a big role in how effective we are with our limited time. It can have a big difference on the quality of a project, the timing of a project, how quick it gets done, how well it's done. It can affect the morale of the team; it can affect retention and people sticking around, them wanting to stay on the team. I think it plays a huge role.

Brett Harned:       I totally agree with that. I think we tend to think of the topic of motivation maybe as a negative, like turning a negative into a positive. But I tend to look at motivation as sometimes reframing a conversation to get even more out of a situation or a person or a project. It's not always a negative thing; it's just optimizing workflows, building better relationships for a better end product or goal. I also tend to think motivation's a really personal topic. What might motivate you, John, might not really motivate me.

John Correlli:      Pizza?

Brett Harned:       Exactly. I always think of in colleges. I've done a lot of work with colleges where you try to get user groups together of students, and they always offer students free food. It's usually pizza and that usually motivates them to be there; I feel like that wouldn't get me there at this point in my life. It's this idea that what motivates one person might not motivate anyone else. John, what are the types of things that you think help to motivate you?

John Correlli:      I think, for me, a lot boils down to problem solving and the accomplishment that you feel when you get to the solution. I've always just enjoyed having a difficult task in front of me and figuring out how to solve it whether it was going through school and also the math classes with calculus. I think a lot of that boils into what I do every day now with figuring out how we can take the problem, so to speak, of project management, and how we can boil that down to a simple solution for the end user.
                   I think too, I still have some customer interaction. It is always cool to get a thank-you from the customer. That's always a nice motivation; where, a lot of times we can just do things and then move onto the next. But really seeing what we're doing and the impact that it has, is just such a great motivation for me and it's the fuel that just keeps the fire going.

Nathan Gilmore:     I don't know how many times I've seen you faced with a problem and your face doesn't leave the laptop until that problem's is solved. John will just keep staring at it. I think a good example is last night. You were up until 4:00 in the morning last night working on a problem. I know that you did not feel like you could go to bed until the problem was figured out, right?

John Correlli:      Yeah.

Brett Harned:       That's definitely a motivator, just getting something done, clearing it off your plate.

John Correlli:      I think I hate leaving stuff at 80, 90%. Just getting to the finish line or at least a solid stopping point is important.

Brett Harned:       Progress is a huge motivator for me too. If I can finish a day feeling like I've accomplished something, I'm then motivated to jump right back to it the next day and feel just as excited about it. Also, I just think for me, it's general feeling of happiness. I Think, probably seven or so years ago I started to think in terms of my career: What are the things that motivate me? What are the things I want to do? I decided it was really simple. It's be happy. Be happy with the work that I'm doing, and that makes me more productive and makes me want to do that work a lot more. It motivates me, I think, to do even more. What about you, Nathan?

Nathan Gilmore:     It's a good question, Brett. I don't know, I've always been pretty driven. If I know that there's a goal we're trying to achieve or a mission that we're on, something inside of me just keeps eating away until we get there. Of course, what we do with TeamGantt, it's like the mission's just ongoing, it'll never end, but it's constantly ... When you see something that you know can be better, that just gets at me. I know we can do this, I know that there's room to improve something. And then it's when you just see that, you know the potential's there. For me it's, let's do it. Just seeing potential, I think, is something that motivates me.

Brett Harned:       I think one thing that I've noticed about you too is what you mentioned about goals. Having some goals in mind is going to push you to do even more. You want to talk a little bit about OKRs and how you're setting that stuff up? How you're working with them?

Nathan Gilmore:     Sure. We can talk about that. One thing we do is we set up the OKRs quarterly, and we do it for certain teams. The idea is basically, just taking the time to think about what is it we want to accomplish for the quarter coming up? What are those specific goals and the key results for them, the objectives and the key results? It's just a really good exercise, if nothing else, to focus on what we're going to be spending our time on the quarter and what impact that would have on the business. Then we can look at that throughout the quarter to make sure we're getting closer to achieving that. I think it just helps with alignment and width; just in general so we're all in the same page and we know what to work on and how to prioritize things.

Brett Harned:       Completely agree. I also think checking in on those goals and dialing them up or down. I think dialing them up as a motivator. Setting one number, and then you get part of the way and say, "You know, we're going to push that up a level, see if we can get there." It motivates you to do more because you want to reach that goal.

Nathan Gilmore:     Definitely. It seems like a lot of managers struggle with how to motivate others. Let's talk about some scenarios and ways that you might try to motivate people and some different scenarios. Brett, I'm sure you've probably got some examples over the years.

Brett Harned:       Just a few. I've worked on a lot of projects either as a project manager or overseeing a team. But I can point back to one project which was probably my single most challenging project in my career. It was a really big website redesign. It was scoped to be done in two years, and it actually took five years, which is insane when you think about it. I feel like I can write a book about that project.
                   Because it took so long, over time the team changed and then the people who were left behind on the team from day one, just really started to get tired of it. It's like jet lag. I can not continue this. I just feel like I'm doing the same thing every day or just iterating on the same thing over and over again, having the same conversations with different people.
                   As the PM on that project, it was my responsibility to try to keep people engaged and make people excited about the work that we were doing; because, at the end of the day it's like, yes, maybe that one product isn't the most exciting thing because it's taking so long due to factors we couldn't control, but there are things that you can control. The way that you collaborate on the work, the way that you do the work together, maybe transforming the way you're creating deliverables. Those are the things that I think motivate people. Trying to turn a challenge into something that's a little bit more exciting and works for you.
                   I also think just as a PM, some of the things that I would try to do to try to engage people; because I think part of this is lack of engagement because loss of motivation. Being really calculated about communications. I would write a weekly e-mail to the team. I would pepper in some humor just to lighten the mood a little bit. Because honestly, on a project on that, everyone's miserable. Nobody wants to do it, it's everyone's last priority, but I know what needs to get done. Keeping people engaged on what's happening but also making light of the situation a little bit.
                   Also, as a PM, a big motivator is just being present in your role. I think a lot of project managers tend to want to be behind the scenes and not engaged with teams as much. In that instance, I would stay until midnight with the team if needed, not really having a lot of work to do but just being there to support. As a developer, I'm sure that you recognize that's a nice gesture. I'm sitting in a room with four developers who are heads-down talking to each other every once in a while. I'm there to play music and order a pizza and work on some other stuff, but not much with them. I think that's just having a feeling of a connected team is a motivator in some way.
                   I think, the only other thing I would say that I did on that project that helped was talking about my team and their work in a really positive way in front of their managers and our clients. Really pushing the fact that hey, you might see that this project is far behind and way overscope grossly, but there's really good stuff happening here and really good people connected to it. I think the more that you can just personalize that kind of situation, the better outcome you'll get and the better people will feel about the work.

Nathan Gilmore:     I think the public recognition or just a compliment. I read something just the other day said: "Compliment can be more meaningful than a bonus," or than money. Just because they know, hey someone noticed. That goes a long way.

Brett Harned:       Especially because you don't know what's going on inside someone's head. You could be working on something and I could think, 'Oh, he's doing a great job'; to you, it's really difficult challenge. I'm thinking, 'Oh, this is easy for you.' For me to come to you and say, "Hey, you're doing a good job and I just let so-and-so know about it," that could change your day completely.

Nathan Gilmore:     John, it seems like our [Dev] team is all really motivated. What is it you think keeps them so motivated?

John Correlli:      I think it touches on a little bit what we talked about on the last podcast of really hiring and finding the right people. There isn't really anyone on the team that you have to drag to get something done. Everyone's really eager to jump on anything. From my end, that's awesome because everyone's such a great team player, we all get along really well and we all help each other really well. I think, just the culture of the friendship that's there is a driving force of motivation, because you want to be able to help out your friend or you want to be able to help out your coworker. Or it's nice to say, 'Hey, I'm behind. Can someone give me a hand?'

Nathan Gilmore:     Just making friends, being good friends with people and having a good connection with them. It does because, you're right, there's something natural about wanting to help out your friends. Another thing is giving people freedom to work on what they want to work on; within reason, obviously. But if there's a certain goal the needs to be met and they can figure out how to get to that goal, I think is a pretty cool thing.
                   One thing recently is, we had a marketing meeting end of last year. We were thinking about, what can we do to just generate some buzz? Our idea was, let's just try, and build up our YouTube channel and get more people on there. What could we do? Threw out a bunch of ideas and then Michael, who is a senior marketer here said, "What's just something totally crazy we can do?" Someone came up with the idea of doing a little comedy series, a little webisode series and they ran with that.
                   I tell you, [Jaimen] and Jason have been working on this. I don't know if I've ever seen people more motivated than them to work on this project. It's been impressive. It was something they totally came up with themselves. They put tons of work into this, worked crazy hard to just go through challenge after challenge. It's really been interesting to watch and they just wrapped up filming on it.
                   This is something that, I don't think we would have ever said to them, "Hey guys, let's do this" because it was a nasty big of a project. But since it was their idea, they took it and they ran with it and they had a ton of freedom to do it how they wanted. It's been pretty cool to watch this. I think that's the way it is when you get the freedom.

Brett Harned:       When you're excited about a project the way that they are, you're completely motivated to get it done and do a really great job on it, so that you can continue to have that freedom in some ways; to come up with new ideas and do more because you know that you're supported in that creativity, which I think is huge. I think, especially for people who are more experienced in their career and don't need as much guidance, giving them some freedom to do work, I think usually yields a better outcome, because they know that they're trusted and they're working hard to do a great job and show you that they can be trusted.

Nathan Gilmore:     I think it's having that mentality in the company that it's okay to fail; it's okay to do something and it not go well. Doing something like this, there's the time involved but that's it. There's not a major risk. It doesn't go well-

Brett Harned:       That's a really good point.

Nathan Gilmore:     ... they'll keep on going. That's fine, we tried something and we took a risk and it was a risk that we could take. We always encourage people to try things and it's okay if something doesn't work out.

Brett Harned:       Especially if you're learning from those things that don't work out. If you can point to something you could have done better or will do better in the future, that's a win.

Nathan Gilmore:     Absolutely.

Brett Harned:       Nathan, you've mentioned the book, Good to Great to me. I have it, ready to read it. But why don't you give us a few of the high points there that tie in with motivation?

Nathan Gilmore:     Sure. That book's one of the classics, one that I was actually introduced to a while ago back at the roofing company when we were there and read then. I still go back and poke into that once in a while. There's just a lot of great stuff. One of the things they talk about in that is Level Five Leadership. They have these different levels. It's like a progression of how you get to level five is, start out as a highly capable individual that contributes, then a contributing team member, then a competent manager, then an effective leader. Eventually you hit level five. It's the way they describe an ultimate leader.
                   It's pretty interesting. That book, of course, it's a study on really some of the greatest companies. This was a common thread, was they all had this Level Five Leadership. They had some really good points in it. Things like, a leader's not taking credit. They've got a quote in there that you can accomplish anything in life provided that you don't mind who gets the credit. I think that's an important thing as far as motivation goes. You want to be an ambitious leader, but for the institution, not yourself.
                   They talk about how Level Five leaders are a study in duality. So they're modest and willful, they're humble and fearless, they don't talk about themselves, they talk about their teams. This is pretty interesting: good to great leaders were continually described with words such as quiet, humble, modest, shy, mild-mannered. If something were to go wrong, they will actually look in the mirror and actually blame themselves as opposed to trying to blame everybody else on the team. I think that helps people know that if something goes wrong, people aren't going to come right after them.
                   That's also something in Jocko's book about leadership, which is pretty interesting too. He's the Navy SEAL and he's written a good book. Extreme Ownership. It's just about when something goes wrong the leader has to look at it and say, 'What did I do wrong here?' Not necessarily what did the team do wrong, what did this person do wrong.
                   Because there's a good chance that actually maybe those people weren't set up right, maybe they didn't have the clear goals. Maybe they didn't have the right tools, maybe they didn't have the right training. As a manager, maybe the manager spread them too thin. There's all kinds of things that can go wrong, and he makes a lot of points how quite often it's at the leadership level that is where the real issue is. The leader has to take ownership of it. I think, if that's done well I think that also can help motivate a team.

Brett Harned:       It feels like that way of thinking and being would remove some kind of barrier that people might perceive to trying new things, getting things done in a different way. Just knowing that, 'I can fail and it's going to be okay. It might not always be all on me; somebody behind me or above me will understand what I'm trying to do and stand by it'; which, I think is cool. For me, that would certainly feel like a motivator.

Nathan Gilmore:     Absolutely.

Brett Harned:       I think a lot of what you're talking about totally makes sense. It feels like a big part of that is explaining the mission of the company or the organization or team or project, whatever it is; which I know that you've done. I've been a part of that. Do you want to talk a little bit about how you do that, how you share that mission with employees?

Nathan Gilmore:     Sure. That's something we do when we have our annual meet-up every year when the whole team comes into town, we always carve out a little bit of time for everybody to get together in one room and just talk about that. It's when John and I usually just share the mission and the vision for the company and why we do what we do. We want everybody to know in the company what our mission is. They understand, I think, every day when they're working, they know why they're working. We're all part of something bigger and we're all just trying to achieve this very difficult mission.

John Correlli:      For those who don't know, TeamGantt's mission is to provide the best project management experience in the world. We take that really into the day-to-day. Everything we do, we always keep in focus: Is this really helping create the best project management experience in the world?

Nathan Gilmore:     Because that affects everything. What we tell our team is, 'Experience is everything.' From the support experience they have, every question they have, does it get answered? Can they find it easily in the documents? How are the videos? Do the videos make them happy? Is the design easy to figure out and pleasing to the eye? Code-wise, is everything fast?

John Correlli:      Does it actually work?

Nathan Gilmore:     Does it work? Does it break? [inaudible] It's just all this stuff. It all comes down to the experience and that's what we're all rallied behind here.

Brett Harned:       I think that's definitely a good point to make in that, you can be motivated not just by things that are internal to your organization or your team, but the many people who see it and who are impacted by it should definitely motivate the way that you do work. Cool. I think that's our wrap for this episode.
                   Just a quick recap, a couple of things that we talked about: Giving people freedom to accomplish the goals in the way that they want to, positive encouragement and helping people to meet those goals, having a clear mission and goals in order to set people up to feel motivated to meet them; and being a humble leader, not blaming others but looking to yourself first.
                   Thanks again for listening to Time Limit. If you've got any questions or want to leave us a review, we definitely appreciate it. You can always get in touch with us at Time Limit at teamgantt.com. Thanks again for listening and we'll see you at the next episode.

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