At the start of a project, there’s generally a mix of excitement and anxiety by the team as they embark on a new challenge. Many of us who are involved in project work thrive off this adrenalin rush because we enjoy applying our skills to overcome a problem or realise an opportunity. However, as time progresses, adrenalin and novelty easily wain, resulting in ever-decreasing team morale. That morale, in turn, has a major impact on team member behaviours, productivity and overall motivation.
While the initial stages of a project focus on controlling a team’s energy and channelling it in the right direction, the latter stages commonly require greater levels of motivation to achieve project results. Successful improvement leaders recognise they often have the most influence over that motivation – and that’s why they invest effort in sustaining it.
At Minset, we’ve frequently seen team morale and motivation become central factors driving improvement…or the absence of them holding it back. It also shapes the likelihood that gains are sustained after that initial energy has backed off.
Here are some practical, important steps for improvement leaders in encouraging and maintaining team motivation:
- Highlight the value of the work – articulate the project or team vision in a way that highlights the value it brings to the end user or client. This helps to connect individual work with a broader context. As one example, we were supporting a leader in delivering an operations improvement project and, right at the start, they actually took their team into their (internal) clients’ world. It gave them a direct feel for what value looked like for the people they were there to serve. The team was able to draw on that broader perspective to stay motivated throughout the project.
- Make benefits personal – clearly communicate the benefits for those actually impacted. They are the ones who need to change their routines or behaviours, so a personal link can be critical. For example, workplace organisation means less frustration looking for lost tools and parts…or recording data in a new application (rather than your spreadsheet) means another skill on your CV…or involvement in a successful improvement project means new skills and experience for future roles.
- Set realistic goals – establish clear and specific performance goals for the team as a whole and for individual team members. When your people know what is expected of them, they can take far greater initiative in delivering prescribed actions and finding ways to add value beyond those set tasks.
- Supply feedback from the start – give team members honest and useable feedback on their performance. When it’s provided throughout a project, it affords more opportunities for individual improvement and realignment. Ensure the feedback is timely and addresses specific behaviours they can control and change. Some of the highest performing leaders we’ve worked with have had their own simple tracking systems to ensure they are being consistent in their feedback frequency. For higher performers on the team, those regular reviews have encouraged incremental personal improvement. In contrast, one account stands out where a team member initially struggled to get on board with their team’s improvement program. A period of sustained, regular feedback from their leader ended up being crucial to their turnaround and they became one of the program’s greatest advocates. Smaller points of feedback, delivered more frequently, ended up having the most significant cumulative benefit for those team members.
- Conduct regular reviews – meet with your team regularly – at least monthly, if not weekly – to develop and periodically review project objectives and confirm accountability for deliverables. Good communication between team members is crucial for good morale. Frequent and honest communication improves the flow of information sharing and underpins team trust.
- Praise small victories – ensure team members are recognised for good performance. Rewards and recognition should also occur more often than negative comments or criticism. They can be effective ways to clarify and communicate performance standards and show that performance is being monitored. If rewards are viewed as timely and performance based, then team members will likely be more motivated toward higher performance. In contrast, recognition that is unearned or seems arbitrary can actually work against healthy morale.
- Walk the walk – demonstrate your commitment to, and passion for, team goals and project success. The idea of ‘visible leadership’ has been touted for many years now and it will be an enduring principle of leadership. There’s something contagious about engaged leaders and you’ll likely find that team members will step up in their own commitment and passion as well.
- Give each team member a chance to shine – remember that a leader’s success depends on the success of their team. Providing opportunities for individual team members to be in the spotlight typically motivates them to keep contributing their best, and further builds their skills and capability along the way.
As a leader, the ability to motivate others is so important. Naturally, you cannot control their motivation, but you can control the way you conduct your projects to generate more energy and enthusiasm. More often than not, that will lead to greater motivation. Regularly undertaking these steps will foster stronger relationships and that sustained energy among your team.