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How can project managers motivate project teams?

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Motivation is defined as the willingness to do something conditioned upon the action’s ability to satisfy some need for the individual. (Robbins & De Cenzo, 2001) Motivation is the key to getting the job done because without it, projects and jobs are completed with no purpose or direction. There are many methods that Project Managers can use to motivate teams.

A key to methodical motivation is flexibility. Studies show that men place a considerable amount of importance in having autonomy in their jobs whereas women place importance in having the opportunity to learn, having convenient work hours, and having good interpersonal relationships at the workplace. (Robbins & DeCenzo, 2001) In order to successfully motivate a team, Project Managers must take into consideration the members on their teams and what it will take to motivate each of them to work together. The flexibility comes into play because each member of the team may have different personal needs and goals or they come from different ethnical or cultural backgrounds. If a Project Manager is not flexible, their chance for successful motivation decreases.

Other keys to motivation, though less important, are incentives, both individual and collective. A team as well as its members has personal needs which can be satisfied through incentives. The incentive can be as simple as time off or it can be more personal like pay-for-performance or competency-based compensation. Pay-for-performance incentives compensate team members based on some measurable performance. Some examples of pay-for-performance incentives are piece rate plans, gainsharing, wage incentives, profit sharing, and lump-sum bonuses.

Competency-based compensation pays and rewards teams and team members on the basis of skills, knowledge, or possessed behaviors. Some examples of the skills, knowledge, and behaviors are leadership, problem solving, decision making, or strategic planning. Compensation is based on the degree to which these competencies exist. Project Managers may also make the mistake of allocating rewards based on non-performance factors. These factors include seniority and job title. Regardless of the incentive, motivation may be gained or reduced by either the team or individual members of the team depending on the incentive. Incentives are usually given to employees by general managers or direct supervisors. Project managers seldom use incentives as motivational tools in order to achieve project goals.

Based on my own personal experiences with teams, motivation is best achieved by being an outstanding example for subordinates. Team members who work for managers that exemplify themselves as setting the example want to achieve excellence for themselves, the team, and the manager. As the perfect example, the manager will spend less time worrying about the smaller goals of the project because team members will take initiative and accomplish those goals on their own. This is a result of wanting to please both managerial objectives and personal objectives.

Team members also want to see managers who lead from the front. It’s very easy to bark orders, but a manager who demonstrates a hands-on working knowledge of the project goals and mentorship will gain the respect and admiration of the team members, who will in turn, give 100% to complete assigned tasks.

The overall goal of the Project Manager is to successfully accomplish all project goals. In order to accomplish the goals, motivation among all members of the project teams must exist. Project Managers motivate by providing the following: (Kerzner, H., 2003)

oGood interpersonal relations

oDesire to achieve


oCommon goal

oIntegration of team and project objectives

oAgreement and distribution of work

oClear role definition

oProfessional interest in project

oChallenge of project

oProject visibility and rewards

In contrast, failure to motivate project teams will suffer the follow: (Kerzner, H., 2003)

oPoor team organization

oCommunication barriers

oPoor leadership

oUncertain rewards and objectives

oResistance to project management approach

oLittle commitment or ownership in a project

oTeam members overloaded

oLimited prior team experience

oUnequaled talent distribution

In conclusion, a Project Manager has many methods of motivation at their disposal. The key is to use the right method of motivation in order to maximize team output and potential. The Project Manager is the overall motivator of the individual, individual teams, and collective teams.


Aranda, E., Leigh, T., & Robbins, S. (2000). Tools for Teams: Building Effective Teams in the Workplace. Boston, MA. Pearson Custom Publishing

Mantel, S. & Meredith, J. (2003) Project Management: A Managerial Approach. 5th Ed. New York, NY. John Wiley & Sons

Kerzner, H. (2003) Project Management: A Systems to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling. 8th Ed. New York, NY. John Wiley & Sons

Robbins, S. & DeCenzo, D. (2001) Supervision Today. 3rd Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Prentice H

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