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I’ve worked on a lot of projects over the years where people on the team were not very motivated. The project was just one of many for the team and no one was very excited (except perhaps the project manager). There were charts and graphs to keep people on schedule, and we wrapped up the work with some level of success. But the energy was low and there was no fun. People got paid to do a job, and they relied on their professionalism to get it done.

The problem with that approach is that it deprived the client and everyone on the team of something important – specialness.

There was nothing that happened that will cause anyone to want to talk about that project with anyone else at a cocktail party – so a marketing opportunity was lost. A cost savings, from real energetic dialogue amongst the team, was lost. The team didn’t generate any excitement in the organization about what they were doing, so highly qualified people will never clamor to get on that team in the future.

In short, while the team finished successfully, more or less – they certainly weren’t all that they could be. Motivated teams simply perform better.

If you think that reducing marketing spend, finding better ways to do things, or building teams that others clamor to be on would help your organization, this blog is for you! I’m going to outline some ways you can increase motivation on your project teams.

Find your why. Focus on your why.

I’ve written about the importance of this so many times. And yet, I still hear about groups who have forgotten it. Or, never knew it. It helps to craft a pithy statement – and repeat it frequently. Don’t assume your teams think like you do. Project team members can get so caught up in the details of doing the work, they lose sight of the vision.  

Use standing meetings well.

I know there are people who disagree on this, but in my experience, a well-structured standing meeting builds accountability far better than emailed updates. I think there are times when teams may need them every day and other times when twice or three times a week may be sufficient.

A well-structured standing meeting builds accountability far better than emailed updates. Click To Tweet

Work in time blocks, or sprints.

The speed of your project should drive the length of your sprints. In most cases, two weeks seems like a good cadence; but if you are working on an event that is moving at lightning speed you may want to meet weekly.  If the project is a slower project, you may opt for a three-week sprint. The longer your sprint, the less energy you will be able to build, so I’d be careful about going too long, unless there is a valid reason.

The key here is to wrap up each sprint with a Checkpoint Meeting. Checkpoint Meetings are a time when teams gather to assess the accomplishments, identify the lessons that have been learned, review what it’s costing the client, and identify and analyze the project risks. Additionally, the team plans the work for the next sprint. Think of it as a combination of a retrospective and a sprint planning meeting.

Set up the project for regular small successes.

What you need is a breakdown of the key activities (or work packages) that need to be completed in order to accomplish your scope. The key is to break the project into activities that can be finished in one or two sprints. You need to be able to make progress in each sprint.

I believe the tendency is to try to create a to-do list for the project. There is nothing wrong with having a to-do list. But I’d resist the urge to think about every little task and focus instead on the big picture. I like looking at a work breakdown structure. If you’ve never created one, here is a step-by-step guide.

Use deadlines effectively.

People don’t all work alike. Some people need a deadline more than others. Some people advocate putting a time estimate next to each item on your to-do list. I’d go nuts if I had to do that. Some people believe every activity needs a deadline. I don’t agree. I’ve written before on how to use deadlines effectively. To build motivated teams, make deadlines your friend, not your enemy.

Use an “FBI” to provide feedback, face-to-face, if possible.

People need to hear feedback – good and bad – in order to grow. You will have to decide if part of your objective is to build a learning team who is growing, or whether you just need to finish the project.

I learned the FBI technique from a book by Kristin Hadeed, Permission to Screw Up: How I Learned to Lead by Doing (Almost) Everything Wrong. Most of us are familiar with the sandwich method of providing constructive feedback – sandwich the constructive feedback between two positive comments. She notes that the problem with that approach is that it doesn’t position the recipient for any kind of behavioral change. And that’s the point. So, she advocates the FBI method: Feeling, Behavior, Impact. This technique can also be effectively used for giving positive feedback

  • Feeling – begin your constructive feedback by talking about how the behavior (good or bad) makes you feel.
  • Behavior – describe the behavior – as clearly and precisely as you can. Vague comments aren’t very helpful.
  • Impact – describe the impact that the behavior has on you, or others around you.

While Hadeed does not discuss this, I believe there is also a need to have a conversation after the FBI that addresses whether there is a root cause that should be addressed.

As an example of an FBI, if a team member is showing up to meetings late, try this comment: I feel frustrated when you arrive late to project meetings. You were 10 or 15 minutes late multiple times. As a team, we really couldn’t make meaningful progress until you arrived, so we were wasting time. Is there a reason that you are consistently late?

Celebrate together.

To a large extent, project managers need to be cheerleaders. They need to be able to inspire their teams. It might be celebrating a small success with a team gathering, or it might be a private celebration with one person who is lacking energy and needs a pep talk. Find ways to celebrate together. If you have structured your project well, there will be frequent opportunities.

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