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Keeping Your Project Team Motivated and Engaged

In leading and participating in hundreds if not thousands of projects during my 25-year career as an executive, consultant, and non-profit leader…

it is apparent that the most important aspect of projecting success is keeping your project team motivated and engaged. It seems as though success (especially on technical projects) would stem from some highly technical concept but that doesn’t hold true. Instead, those teams that are motivated and engaged far surpass all else.

The good news is that motivating and engaging a project team is almost exactly the same as motivating and engaging employees. People want to be treated well, informed and appreciated. Here are a few of the top strategies to motivate and engage project teams:

  1. Vision and goals – One of the most common mistakes project managers and executives make is ineffectively or simply not communicating a clear vision. When employees do not know where they are going or why they are not motivated to “get there.”

    Don’t be confused. Companies with vision statements on the walls are no better off than those without a vision statement. What matters is when the project managers and executives live and communicate the vision on a consistent basis. How does the vision relate to the project? How is the project team involved and a part of this vision? Think about the following questions: Is it part of daily conversations? Does it matter? How do departments, project teams, and employees contribute to the vision? Have you translated the vision into goals? Clarity, simplicity and passion matter.

  2. Leadership that combines passion and focus – Day-to-day leadership and communications engage employees. It’s as simple as that: project managers do not have to be charismatic; they must be passionate and focused. If the project manager is energized about the project, the project team will follow.

    For example, an organization I worked with that had the most engaged employees was led by a less-than-charismatic CEO; however, he had passion, drive, focus, and integrity. Everyone knew where we were headed and which of their tasks were most critical to the current focus and direction of the company. There was no doubt what was critical. Priorities were clear. And everyone knew that it was likely that the CEO and/or other executives would stop by to discuss ideas and brainstorm about the company’s area of focus. Their input seemed to matter. Suddenly employees were engaged. We managed multiple projects at this company and had engaged project teams because they knew they were a part of something important and felt needed.

  3. Appreciation – A simple thank you can go a long way! It is amazing how much of an impact being appreciated has on a project team member’s level of engagement. Unfortunately, I’ve seen countless examples of exceptional employees who don’t receive any appreciation, but instead get negative attention at times for bringing up potential problems or roadblocks that must be tackled in order to achieve the project goals successfully. There is nothing more disheartening to an exceptional employee than a complete lack of appreciation for the results achieved.

    On the other hand, the best leaders who drive bottom line business results speak with their employees and project teams. They review goals on a frequent basis and discuss roadblocks. They show interest in the employee’s ideas and provide immediate positive and corrective feedback. The best leaders appreciate progress and congratulate success. And the best leaders with the most engaged employees give credit to their employees for successes and take responsibility for the issues.

  4. Empowerment – Empowering project teams within reasonable guidelines will go a long way. People want to feel as though they have some level of control over the project’s success – and that they have an impact. Knowing they are empowered to make decisions within specific guidelines enables motivation and engagement.

The only unique circumstance related to project teams ties to the cross-functional nature of projects. Project team members need to feel “safe” and “free” to participate in projects without repercussions from their manager (which could be as simple as working long hours to get both done without discussion). Thus, the project manager must be alert to these occurrences, talk with the managers associated with his/her team members and proactively address this topic.

Since projects will have a substantial effect on your customer loyalty and bottom line – the two most critical aspects of any business – it is worthwhile taking a few steps back to think about how to ensure success by looking at one of the most critical ingredients – team member motivation and engagement. Set aside time to think about engagement and how you can improve upon your situation (no matter how good or bad) – one small step at a time will be noticed by your project team and success will follow.

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