6 Ways to Improve Project Team Motivation

Grace Windsor
By | Updated November 14, 2016 | 6 min read
team motivation

A project manager wears many hats: planner, negotiator, resource manager, delegator and accountant to name but a few.


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Project managers also need to tap into psychological theories and skills to understand and motivate their teams. Motivating your project team is not as simple as holding a meeting, setting tasks, and hoping that everyone enthusiastically tackles the work.

Understanding what motivation actually is and why it matters means that project managers must get to grips with managing people, not just processes.

Motivating project teams leads to increased collaboration, innovation, and productivity, all of which allow the team to grow and succeed together.


What is Motivation?

I am sure you will agree with the idea that motivation is somewhat elusive! We all have those super-productive days when anything seems possible and days that feel like we are running through extremely sticky mud.

Motivation is described as the ‘process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviors’. Motivation causes us to act; it is the ‘why’ of behavior. We can only gauge someone’s level of motivation by what they do, for example, completing tasks on time or helping out a colleague suggests that a team member is motivated to complete the project.

As motivation is a complex topic, I will briefly introduce some key concepts as a starting point. By basing your motivational efforts on these theories, you will find it easier to keep your team moving forward.


3 Components of Motivation

Motivation is linked to Activation, Persistence, and Intensity.

  • Activation refers to the decision to do something such as enrolling in a project management certification course.
  • Persistence is the ongoing effort to reach this goal, for example, studying whilst working full-time.
  • Intensity is evident in the concentration that goes into achieving the goal. In this instance, actions include studying regularly, taking part in online discussions and applying new knowledge to projects.


6 Theories of Motivation

Theories of motivation are broadly divided into the following 6 categories.

  1. Instincts: This theory suggests our behaviors are driven by instincts that aid survival, for example, seeking food.
  2. Drives and Needs: Certain behaviors such as eating, drinking, and sleeping are motivated by biology. We have a biological need for sleep, which motivates us to sleep.
  3. Arousal Levels: People are motivated to engage in behaviors that help them maintain their optimal level of arousal. An individual with high arousal needs is often motivated to engage in exciting, adrenaline-fueled behaviors.
  4. Incentive Theory of Motivation: This theory posits that people are motivated by reward. As a result, we do certain things to gain greater rewards, for example, beating a sales target to achieve a bonus.
  5. Humanistic Theory of Motivation: This theory is best illustrated by the hierarchy of needs, which suggests we are motivated to satisfy physiological needs before moving onto physical safety, affiliation, social connection, and esteem.
  6. Expectancy Theory of Motivation: Have you ever worked to achieve a future goal or reality? This is the expectancy theory in action. The more confident we feel about reaching that goal, the harder we work to towards the outcome.


Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation

Finally, motivation is categorized as Extrinsic or Intrinsic. Extrinsic motivations are external to the individual such as trophies, money, social recognition or praise. Intrinsic motivations come from within the individual such as learning a new skill as a personal challenge.


As you can see from this brief introduction, motivation is both internal and external. Individual response to a situation is driven by personal needs and goals. We also react to external factors such as rewards and recognition. As a project manager, you need to tap into both elements to help motivate your team. Here are six suggestions to do this.


6 Ways to Motivate Your Team

1. Communication

Communication is core to building a motivated, driven team. In addition to implementing a communication plan, use every opportunity to get to know your team. This will help you to uncover new ideas, deal with any potential issues or conflicts and find out what individuals really need to stay on track. Remember – project management is about people!


2. The Why

Help your team to understand the reason behind the project from both an organizational and personal perspective. If your team appreciate why a particular task or process is important to the project, they are more likely to engage in the task fully.

More importantly, let the team know why the project is important to their professional and personal development, for example, the opportunity to develop a new skill or take on additional responsibilities which will support a promotion.


 3. Project Set-Up

Involve your team in the set-up of the project and make important decisions collaboratively. A sense of ownership and input can really motivate the team!

During project set-up, break tasks into stages to help the team tackle the work in manageable chunks, without feeling overwhelmed. Completing each stage provides a sense of achievement and momentum that will keep everyone moving forward.

Also, creating a realistic schedule helps to establish a basic level of activity needed to complete the project. As explained by Scott H. Young, this reduces the need for constant motivation to move forward, which is emotionally draining.


4. Time and Goal Management

Encourage your team to undertake some time management training to get more from their day. Effective time management will enable individuals to achieve personal and professional goals more readily, which will strengthen their ‘why’.


5. Celebrate Success

Reward and recognition are powerful motivators. Celebrate successes, however small, where possible. This is a simple as a quick team email highlighting a completed task or a team lunch.


6. Lead by Example

It is not easy to be motivated and positive every day, but as a project manager, you do need to lead your team by example. Use the above tips to find your own why and set goals. Be personable and encourage your team to come to you whenever they need to. Foster a positive working environment with a focus on collaboration, transparency, and growth.




Motivation cannot be forced and it will ebb from time to time. With the above knowledge, you can cultivate motivation within your team and keep everyone moving towards project success.


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Grace Windsor
Grace Windsor

Grace is a content creator within the marketing team at BrightWork. She loves creating actionable content in different formats to help others achieve more project success. Grace spent far too long at university studying English literature, which instilled a life-long love of learning and upskilling. In her free time, she enjoys a challenging session at the gym, tucking into a good book, and walking the beautiful Galway coastline with her dog.

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