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Some time back, I was talking with a young person and had the sense that she was completely burned out at work. She didn’t feel like she was getting anywhere at her job. And she was feeling overwhelmed by her home life with three youngsters that are a handful. She had pondered quitting, but she wanted to work outside of the home for her own personal growth reasons. And maybe I should mention that she manages a team of ten people in a bank operations area.

The job is not glamorous. Bank operations is a vital area, but it’s not in the fancy lobby with comfortable seating and a café down the hall. And her team are mostly women without college degrees who are juggling heavy demands from families and finances.

The young woman was asking me about project management, and whether that might help her in her career. One of the reasons that I like project management is that it is all about helping a group of people perform as effectively as they can. Yet it’s not all team building exercises. It’s highly skilled work that matters. Projects can transform companies. But one of the challenges can be keeping team motivation levels high when the work drags on and people forget why they are doing the work.

Unlike projects, operations is ongoing work. And for some, it can feel like the same thing, over and over. How can we keep operational teams motivated? The conversation made me wonder if she might derive more joy from her job if she could implement some strategies for keeping her team more motivated. Here are six ideas that I can recommend.

Six Great Ways to Increase Team Motivation on Operations Work #smartprojex #projectmanagement #teamwork #team #collaboration Share on X

1. Conduct regular one-on-ones with direct reports to gather insights

As a mom, my friend understands what it feels like to be a working parent. But she is in a different tax bracket from her direct reports. And so, our second coffee and conversation session began with some discussions on what it feels like to live from paycheck to paycheck, with no savings. I’m not suggesting that you have conversations with your direct reports about their personal family situation or finances. I’m suggesting that you maintain some awareness of these issues as you discuss their work.

What you discuss in your one-on-ones will vary, depending on the role of your direct report and the level of collaboration versus independence on your team. A team of people who don’t collaborate at all will feel very different from a highly collaborative team.

In her case, the team wasn’t at all collaborative, as they all performed different functions that required some significant training. And so, as a team they didn’t have team goals. They had individual goals. And when people took vacation, or called in sick, it created a problem.

2. Increase collaboration by cross-training team members and building goals together

One of my recommendations was that she increase the cross-training that she was trying to do with team members. By building a more collaborative group where everyone understood a variety of different responsibilities, she could reduce the problems when someone called in sick or needed to take some time off.

And as she did that, she encouraged the team members to build annual goals together. She further helped them translate these goals into monthly objectives that they could accomplish.

The team became an accountability group. The individuals got to know each other better and became more supportive of each other, particularly when personal setbacks occurred.  Over time, team motivation improved, they strengthened their resumes, and many of them seemed happier.

3. Create regular small wins for your team

Does operational work have to feel routine or mundane?  Is there a way to reimagine the work you are doing so that it becomes more playful? OR to communicate meaningful, small objectives to your team?

Maybe you can organize a short team demo of some work that has been recently finished so that everyone can cheer the group on. It might be the simple task of cleaning the bathrooms in a bank building. Don’t you think the bathroom would be sparkling clean if the person who was cleaning it knew that everyone on the team was going to check it out and celebrate?

And how do you think your team would feel if there was going to be a celebration of work well done in the newly cleaned bathroom? I’m not suggesting that you have a party in the bathroom every day. I suggest you look for opportunities to have small, varied celebrations of work finished and done well.

4. Challenge your teams, as a group, to look for better ways to accomplish objectives

Depending on your work, this may or may not be possible. In my experience, there are sometimes better ways to accomplish something.

It may involve suggesting changes in other areas. This can be tricky. Other department managers may be territorial or stuck in an old way of doing things.

To be effective in getting others to change, try asking this question: “what’s in it for them?” If the answer is nothing, then try rethinking your request so that their answer changes. Maybe you just begin a dialogue about the problem you see and ask for their insights on the interface between what your team is doing and their team is doing.

To be effective in getting others to change, try asking this question: “what’s in it for them?” #projectmanagement #team #teamwork #collaboration #smartprojex Share on X

5. Use daily standing meetings

Standing meetings are a great idea at times. I’ve written before about the secrets of using standing meetings well and I’ve often said that I do believe that they increase team motivation. I know there are complaints about them, but I think that in most situations the benefits outweigh the negatives when they are done well.

In operational work, the conversations and the questions asked might change a bit – depending on the nature of your work. How might these three questions work for your team?

  • What are you most excited about that you accomplished yesterday?
  • What are your three highest priorities today? (or top priority)
  • What issues are you seeing that might impede our performance as a team?

I remember an incident, years ago, before I knew anything about standing meetings.  I was walking into a Sam’s Club to get the weekly necessities for a family of seven and dreading the experience. As I walked in, the store manager was conducting a meeting with a huge number of people in uniforms. I stood there and listened as he charismatically encouraged the team to provide their best service, look people in the eye, be helpful, and be aware of things that didn’t look right.

I’ve never forgotten this experience. I could feel the energy going up in the group. I even got excited. And then, he started talking about the company’s stock price. And as a former banker, I was totally shocked. But it worked. You will have to find your own strategies that work for you. But your goal is to always be seeking to increase your team’s motivation level.

6. Get creative about when, where, and how you do your regular meetings.

The other factor might be finding a time when the largest number of people can attend given the fact that you may be dealing with work shifts. Depending on how your shifts work, you may find that you need to be creative in scheduling these, and you may not call them standing meetings.

Whether we’re talking about meetings, goals, or one-on-ones, you are going to have to figure out what works for you in your situation. But if you doubt the importance of this, check out this article from Northwestern University that reports on the data that supports the value of improving team motivation.

If you are struggling and would like some coaching, I’m happy to help. Here’s a look at the coaching options that offer.