How to motivate a project team for change
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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 project team members 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 project goals

Vision is important, but planning and execution create the magic. Vision 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 you will achieve it. When leading your team, set realistic goals, 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 are what kill 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.

Listen and engage your team to ensure shared understanding and ownership of goals

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.

In his book 'Start with Why' Columbia professor Simon Sinek wrote: "The infrastructure is what actually makes any measurable change." With no fundamental 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 individual and team goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely). Set a line of sight to what can be readily achieved with clear goals in place. If you have people on the team to help, allocate experienced project managers to help with the planning. You'll quickly find a motivated team is also a team working in an organized way.

With a detailed structure and action plan the entire team can engage with, you can begin to build toward a successful project delivering 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 clearly understand what everyone else is bringing to the table and trust in the team's delivery.

In his book, Simon Sinek gives an excellent example of the importance of synergy as a powerful motivational tool. He explained a major difference between how manufacturers made Japanese cars and American cars in the past. When American cars were assembled, the doors had to be tapped into the vehicle's body (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.

Open and honest communication to motivate project team members

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 words,  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. Hold regular review sessions with a detailed agenda to provide a space to encourage feedback and discuss together how you can overcome obstacles. When feedback is received, take appropriate action to protect the interest of your team and demonstrate constant improvement to have the team feel listened to.

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 returned to work the next day, do you think they had any of that energy left to take big actions?

On the other hand, Bill Gates 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 into the multibillion-dollar company it is today.

Former employees who have listened to him speak said that they carried his words around for weeks afterward. How does this example help you as a team leader?

Leading project teams with conviction

If that is your personality type, you can be an energetic leader but never replace energy with true motivation. Your team can almost always tell if you're genuinely optimistic or if you are just putting up a show.

Your words and actions must add up, and your message should always resonate with your team's challenges 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.

Engaging with empathy is one of the important soft skills you need to bring people with you. Celebrate the small victories, don't punish failure but rather learn from it and encourage people to feel empowered to make decisions to push toward the finish line.

Related: Our article on developing emotional intelligence, a key soft skill, will further help you understand how to lead with empathy.

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.

Taking time to get in tune with the customer

Tony Xu, the 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 could grow the company successfully because every current executive did deliveries in their first year. Their knowledge of the target market was not in stats but in 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. Like Tony Xu, 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 the products and services you offer.

Recognize 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 exclusively relying on monetary rewards doesn't necessarily improve employees' KSAs (Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities) and could push them to use unethical practices 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.

Whereas no doubt more money can help them feel extrinsically motivated, start with intrinsic motivations first. 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 toward 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 for their own personal well-being.

It is important that you prepare your volunteers for the reality of the work, especially if your cause is delicate. When your team goes in knowing what to expect, it's 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.

Organizing projects

Depending on the scale of the task at hand, appointing an experienced project manager can help ensure clarity as to what needs doing and how it all fits together.

For smaller projects that may not need the rigor of a dedicated project manager, using some basic principles such as task planning, time, and role allocation will further aid team organization - many of the modern project management software solutions on the market can help make this easy and aren't expensive.

You'll quickly find being organized and clearly communicating what needs to be done when and by who not only helps manage projects but also helps keep teams motivated and ensure they stay focused.

Ensuring a safe and learning-orientated environment

It's easy for volunteers to feel like one of the many because welfare concerns are concentrated on the cause. Always ensure 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 beneficial not just for the community being impacted but also for the volunteers: their overall mental health, socialization, and sense of community improvement.

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 foster motivated teams.

Related: Volunteering facts and statistics that highlight the importance of giving back.


To recap, here are the important tips to remember when you want your team to stay motivated:

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

We're excited to learn about leaders' different methods of motivating their teams! 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 and with us.

By Jennifer Okafor, BSc.

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

Photo by Gerhard Kupfer on Unsplash
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