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Motivation drives our ability to be productive. But for most of us there are just times when we lack that drive to work effectively. As a parent, I remember those times when I asked the children to straighten up the playroom and all went well. There were other times when I just couldn’t get them in the mood to clean up.

As we grow up, we no longer need our parents to tell us what to do. We find that motivation from within. According to Daniel Pink, author of the book Drive, motivation is made up of three key components: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Pink makes the point that we are most motivated when we have some control over our work lives, feel like our work has purpose and value, and believe we have the ability to perform effectively. But how do we ensure that those things are in place in the environment we manage? Here are some tips that will help increase team motivation.

Remember your why.

I write about this often, and I still find teams that forget this very important recommendation. I’m not alone in advocating for finding your why. Daniel Pink, who Jane Porter quotes in that same article, said:  “When people know why they are doing something, they tend to do it better and with a little more zeal.” [1]

Most of us have more to do than we have time. I work with a lot of independent contractors. We are all crazy busy and juggling priorities that are coming at us from multiple directions. So, how do we prioritize our work? Often times, I find that people work on the items that have the most interest to them. Tasks that have the most compelling purpose often get done before the mundane.

Project managers can increase team and individual motivation by developing a compelling “why?” statement and helping teams remember the reason that the project exists. Don’t be afraid to over communicate your “why?” statement. Click To Tweet

Set up your project for little wins.

If you haven’t read my blog on how to break down a project into the essential activities, check it out here. The secret is to break down a project far enough that you can estimate costs, without trying to itemize every phone call, email need, and document review. This will give you work that you can “check off” when it is done. These little wins create momentum and increase motivation.

Little wins create momentum and increase motivation. Click To Tweet

Reframe the challenge as a series of attainable goals.

When Bill Bratton took over as the NYC Police Chief in 1994, his mission was a challenging one: to transform NYC from one of the most dangerous large cities to one of the safest large cities. He realized this goal in about two years. One of the tactics he used was to re-frame the challenge as a series of achievable goals.

To make the challenge seem manageable, Bratton framed it as a series of specific goals that officers at different levels could relate to. As he put it, the challenge the NYPD faced was to make the streets of New York safe. This challenge was both large and small, and Bratton did a remarkable job of shifting the responsibility from himself to every NYC police officer.

“For the cops on the street, the challenge was making their beats or blocks safe— no more. For the commanders, the challenge was making their precincts safe— no more. Borough heads also had a concrete goal within their capabilities: making their boroughs safe— no more.” [2]

Engage the influencers in your organization.

In most organizations, you will have a group of leaders who can sway others. It’s not always a function of job descriptions or titles. It is the pied pipers in the organization. Some people just seem to have that special quality that inspires others.

Bill Bratton organized those influencers because he understood that they “act like kingpins in bowling: When you hit them just right, all the pins topple over.” [3]

How can you engage these influencers in your organization?

Rethink the scope.

Individuals are often taught to re-examine their to-do lists, in order to ensure that we are always working on what is most important. In an established project, I recommend periodically reviewing the scope to see if it remains valuable. Said differently, we should always be looking at the business value on the project.

Focus on people who may be unknowingly sabotaging efforts.

Sometimes people have competing commitments that they may not even be aware of. These competing commitments can represent very personal vulnerabilities that make people highly resistant to change.

For example, some people are perfectionists and thus they resist finishing work or making decisions. Others may be unable to delegate because they have a personal commitment to high quality and are sure others don’t have such a commitment. A leader may be so committed to having a plan of action that he/she may not be able to embrace a more agile management approach.

It can take a lot of time to uncover these hidden and competing commitments. That’s part of your job. If someone is sabotaging your efforts, knowingly or unknowingly, you need to act. Hopefully, everyone is on the same side and wants the project to be successful. If you have to discuss this with your client or members of senior management, do so delicately. Remember to put everyone on the same side – opposite the problem.

To increase team motivation, try these six tips. Let me know how they work. And if you feel like you are in over your head, this may be a good time to call for some outside help. I’m available.


[1] The Three Secret Elements Of Staying Motivated At Work Every Day by Jane Porter. Fast Company.

[2, 3] Tipping Point Leadership by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. From HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Change Management; Kotter, John P.; Kim, W. Chan; Mauborgne, Renée A.; Copyright, 2011. Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. Kindle Locations 1535 [2] and 1485 [3].