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How to Motivate Your Project Team

April 25, 2016 by

This post will focus on insights into how project team members are motivated and understanding some theories of motivation with the goal of establishing guidelines for achieving higher levels of motivation.


How to Motivate Your Project Team

Amy Edmondson (2012, p.78) summarized that “articulating what’s at stake is a basic leadership tool for motivating” and project managers should use any opportunity to emphasize to their team the purpose for their role in the project.

According to the Business Dictionary (2015), motivation is defined as “internal and external factors that stimulate desire and energy in people to be continually interested and committed to a job, role or subject, or to make an effort to attain a goal” and one of the most common and enduring models to understand motivation is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Maslow designed the model where we are primarily motivated by physiological needs first (water, food, sleep) and as these needs are fulfilled we move to the next higher level.

Chip Conley (2007, p.6) summarized that “as we satisfy our physiological needs, we move towards higher needs for physical safety, affiliation, social connection, and esteem” where the logic behind the model states that lower order needs must be satisfied first then once achieved, the next level becomes prominent.

Figure 1 below illustrates Maslow’s model.



Maslow’s hierarchy of needs


Maslow’s model has been applied to companies where the various needs are mapped to organizational factors, and when successfully applied resulted in improved motivation in employees.

Richard Bull (2014, p.53) applied Maslow’s hierarchy of needs into a business context whereas we personally need to monitor what level we are at in Maslow’s model, project managers need to closely monitor their project team, what levels they are at, and how they can influence staff to get to the next level (Figure 2).

Chip Conley (2007, p.6) reinforced this by stating that pay and conditions are a base motivator for most team members whilst loyalty and inspiration are fostered further up the pyramid and recognizing employee’s talents, goals and dreams are far more important motivators. Conley went as far as to conclude “the main reasons employees leave their job is the lack of recognition they feel from their direct supervisor”.



Maslow’s hierarchy in the context of an organization


Dan Pink (2009) also addressed the myth of financial reward as a motivator stating reward actually narrows our focus and restricts our possibility. He cited an investigation by economists at the London School of Economics who looked at 51 studies of pay-for-performance plans, inside of companies and found that “financial incentives can result in a negative impact on overall performance.

The opportunity therefore for project managers is to recognize and understand their project team talents and focus their development as the main motivating factor.



  1. Edmondson, Amy C. (2012), ‘Teamwork On the Fly (How to master the new art of teaming)’, Harvard Business Review pp. 78.
  2. Web Finance Inc. (2015) ‘The Business Dictionary’ available at:
  3. Conley, C. (2007). ‘Peak: How great companies get their mojo from Maslow’ (Vol. 263). John Wiley & Sons, pp.6.
  4. Bull, Richard (2014). ‘Reporting for sustainable success by applying Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to business’, Financial Management, pp. 53.
  5. Pink, Dan (2009), ‘The puzzle of motivation’ TED Talk,


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Collaborative Project Management: A Handbook

Peter Doyle

Project Management Consultant, BrightWork
Peter Doyle

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