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Project Leadership and Motivating Teams
By Ty Kiisel

I have to admit, one of the most rewarding parts of writing articles is the opportunity to interact with so many smart and dedicated people. We all face many of the same challenges every day and I am blown away by the willingness of everyone I speak with to share ideas, experiences and best practices. Among many of the topics we discuss, the difference between project management and project leadership is a hot topic. Recently I have noticed a recurring theme in some of the questions I get asked, including:

  1. How can I actually trust the project team to self-direct their work?
  2. What is the best way to keep members of the project team motivated?

Trust the Team

I’ll admit that what I’m about to say is probably easier said than done, but worth the effort. I have had the opportunity to work as a team member or a project leader on many teams over the years, and believe that fundamentally people “step up” when given the opportunity. Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone will. In those instances, I think it’s important to step back and evaluate whether or not that particular team member should remain on the team. That being said, I recognize that not all project teams have the luxury of picking who’s on their teams in the real world, but depending on the organization, they probably have a lot of influence. For any project team to be successful, it’s critical to jettison the dead weight that refuses to contribute to the team or doesn’t add value. The burden of doing more with less includes doing it with the right people, or projects are doomed from the start.

Motivating Teams

I don’t think the argument between the carrot and the stick applies to project teams. Of course, the stick is not a long term solution to motivating anyone. Fear is only a motivator for a short period of time, but is ultimately a credibility destroyer and eventually team members tire of being threatened or insulted, and leave—or worse, they leave mentally but stay physically.

There’s also been a lot of discussion in leadership circles about whether or not the carrot really works. I don’t think anyone would argue that better compensation is always appreciated, but I know some very well compensated people who are still unhappy in their work.

As a general rule, I believe that people are really driven by a desire to contribute to something bigger than themselves. Let’s face it, most of us don’t spend our time changing the world, curing cancer or fostering world peace, but there is value to what all of us do. Team members who are allowed to share in the vision and understand how their role contributes to the success of a worthwhile endeavor tend to be engaged and motivated. (And a good compensation package doesn’t hurt.)

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, these are just my observations and opinions. I am a firm believer in people’s desire to do good work. I’ve worked with very few people who didn’t want to be good employees and team members. Please feel free to contribute to the conversation and share your thoughts and ideas.

About Ty Kiisel

Writing about project management for @task gives Ty the opportunity to share his personal experiences as an “accidental” project manager along with the lessons learned from conversations with customers, hopefully demonstrating that it really doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, the rewards of successfully executing project-based work are universal.

About @task

@task helps organizations focus on being more effective, innovative, and more competitive with a rich project and portfolio management solution that enables decision-makers to maximize their resources by implementing those initiatives that provide the greatest business value. @task helps align the strategic goals of objectives with the implementation and execution goals of project teams.

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