How to motivate a project team for change

How To Motivate A Project Team For Change?

Do you motivate people to take action even after you leave the room? Changemakers setting out on a journey to grow a social enterprise or scale an impact project will in all but the smallest enterprises require hard working teams behind them to help bring their plans to life. The idea of new tasks, long hours spent working on deliverables, regular reviews, and endless changes can be daunting, even when pursuing a purposeful vision. Ensuring your project teams are working effectively to deliver your vision and desired outcomes is a crucial skill for scale and something of an art. So how do you motivate a project team for change? In the few steps below, I've shared some pointers on the best practices to keep your team motivated and excited to deliver consistently at their very best.

How To Motivate a Project Team

Set achievable goals

Vision is important, but planning and execution create the magic. Vision is what helps you see the end goal before a project is even put into motion. However, vision is nothing if you’re not realistic about how it will be achieved. When leading your team, plan out tasks and assign roles in a way that will not leave them feeling overwhelmed with the size and scale of the mission ahead

Before you let your excitement take over, think of how achievable your big picture is. Mark Twain once said “Quitting smoking is the easiest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve done it hundreds of times”. It’s easy to want to do something. Yet, the hard work and consistency needed for success is what kills so many great ideas. You might even feel tempted to push planning off to your people and expect them to handle it. This strategy runs the risk of confusing and demotivating them rather than saving you time and effort.

One of your key roles as a team leader is to keep your people interested and motivated. How? Share your ideas, listen to their input, break the work into smaller achievable tasks, and make yourself available to help when a team member finds themselves in a rut.

Columbia professor, Simon Sinek, in his book ‘Start with Why’ wrote: “The infrastructure is what actually makes any measurable change”. With no real understanding of what they should be doing and why you may find yourself observing a  team that is only putting in the bare minimum effort just to have something to show. To avoid this outcome, keep your goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely). Set a line of sight to what can be readily achieved. With a detailed structure and action plan, you can begin to build towards the bigger picture.

Protect your synergy

It’s not enough that your team shares a common interest or has all the required skill sets. Rather, high performing teams have a relationship built on trust in decision making and execution. For every member to contribute at their best potential, they must have a clear idea of what everyone else is bringing to the table, and trust in the team’s delivery.

Simon Sinek gives a good example of the importance of synergy in his book. He explained a major difference between how Japanese cars and American cars were made in the past. When American cars were being assembled, the doors had to be tapped into the body of the car (with a rubber mallet) to make them fit perfectly. Japanese car makers didn’t have to do this because they designed each door to fit each car from the first drawing. This example shows the importance of synergy in a team; get it right and each part works together in harmony ultimately saving time, effort and wastage down the line. In this case from design, to engineering, and eventually assembly.

How to protect your synergy? Keep communication open and honest among your team members. Emphasize the importance of honesty; when team members can trust each other’s word,  it becomes easier to focus on their work knowing that others are working in the capacities they have promised.

Also, remember to celebrate successes and share them across your teams, and turn failure into shared learning experiences. Encourage feedback and when it is received, take appropriate action to protect the interest of your team and demonstrate constant improvement.

Do not replace motivation with energy

Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates were two different types of CEOs for the Microsoft brand. Steve Ballmer brought an energy that was always effective in exciting the crowd of employees at annual meetings. He would run around the stage, speak with so much passion and succeed at bringing everyone else up to his level of excitement. But how long do you think this effect lasted? When Microsoft employees went back to work the next day, do you think they had any of that energy left to take big actions?

Bill Gates, on the other hand, was a soft-spoken but articulate CEO. When he talked, people kept quiet and listened. He didn’t run around stages, but he was able to inspire and motivate his people in such a way that they helped him build Microsoft to the multibillion-dollar company it is today. Former employees who have listened to him speak have said that they carried his words around for weeks after. How does this example help you as a team leader?

You can be an energetic leader if that is your personality type, but never replace energy for true motivation. Your team can almost always tell if you’re truly optimistic or if you are just putting up a show. Your words and actions must add up, and your message should always resonate with the challenges your team is facing at any point in time. If you’re not clear on the reason why your team should embark on a project or new initiative, then you need more time to motivate yourself before anyone else. Because if you’re not buying it, then neither would they.

Get Involved To Motivate a Project Team

Be a better customer champion through research

Research births ideas and ideas bring excitement and motivation. Many teams are operating on assumptions, and it’s killing their ability to achieve their end goal. Aim for your efforts to become a reflection of your audience’ or target customers’ needs. Not what you’ve assumed that they want. Being really close to what your customer needs and wants is why market research is so important. Market research is not always surveys, stats, and percentages. Sometimes, it's delivering and testing products by yourself or attending conferences that have nothing to do with your industry but are hotspots to start conversations with your customers and so on.

Tony Xu, co-founder of DoorDash, a food delivery company valued at $1 billion recently gave some insight into this concept on How I Built This. He explained that his team was able to grow the company successfully because every current executive did deliveries in their first year. Their knowledge of the target market was not in stats, it was from daily interactions. When they heard a customer complain or appreciate something, they became excited and motivated to start making changes.

It's motivating to show your teams how much you truly care about your customers. Just like Tony Xu does, take it a step further and insert your team into the customer interaction process. Their personal experiences will give room for internal motivation and the birth of new ideas to improve on the products and services you offer.

Recognise and reward your team members often

When you reward people, it’s a sign that you recognize their efforts and respect their contributions. A good tip is to avoid using monetary rewards every time. Keep money for special occasions such as end of the year bonuses. This article published by the Kelley School of Business revealed that relying on monetary rewards exclusively doesn't necessarily improve employees KSAs (Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities), and could push them to use unethical practices in a bid to earn some extra money.

Instead of money, give your team members credit when presenting an achievement. Always thank them for their individual contributions, and help them develop their strengths and skills. When your team members see that you care about their best interests, it will become easier for them to feel loyalty. And as a result, become proactive towards achieving the things that matter to you.

Motivating a Volunteer Team

motivating a volunteer project team

Volunteer workers are usually motivated and excited about contributing to the community and positive change. However, the harsh reality of their cause can easily dull any spirit. In some situations, volunteers could lose focus because they begin to doubt how much change their ‘little’ contributions can bring, pushing them to overcompensate. A study by Dr. Talbot from Brighton University revealed that (young) volunteers often feel over-involved with their volunteer work, with less regard towards their own personal well-being.

It is important that you prepare your volunteers for the reality of the work, especially if your cause is a delicate one. When your team goes in knowing what to expect, its harder for the harsh reality to dissuade them. Keep yourself accessible to them by making it clear that you are the go-to person for their concerns. It’s easy for volunteers to feel like one-of-the-many because welfare concerns are concentrated on the cause. Always ensure that they are as comfortable as possible and encourage community-building so volunteers also look out for each other.

There are many personal upsides to volunteer work beyond knowing that you've helped to make the world a better place for others. This study reveals that volunteer work is not just beneficial for the community being impacted, but also the volunteers. Their overall mental health, socialization, and sense of community improves.

Share your experiences with your volunteer team. And instead of majoring on what you've done for others, ensure you include how volunteering has helped you learn. Your personal development experience will in turn also help them.


To recap, here are the important tips to remember when you want to motivate your team.

  • Set achievable goals
  • Protect your synergy
  • Do not replace motivation with energy
  • Be a better customer champion through research
  • Recognize and your team often.

Do you have any tips you think should also be on this list? Please share them with us and other readers in the comment section below. We're excited to learn about other methods which leaders use to motivate their teams!

Jennifer is a content writer with an educational background in Public Relations and Advertising. From her desk in Lagos, Nigeria, she helps businesses around the world reach and connect with their audiences.
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