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Keeping Teams Motivated

The leader’s role is to keep the energy in the team up and keep the team motivated to achieve the vision and goals of the project. Due to the long durations of large-infrastructure projects, this is a tough job — but it is critical to ensure its success.  Some people think that motivation is something that just pumps people up but doesn’t do much else. However, motivation can be the leader’s number-one asset on large infrastructure projects, with their many highs and lows.

To achieve anything on a project, your team must be willing to put all their energy into achieving the project goals rather their own personal agendas. It is the responsibility of the project leader to understand what motivates their team so that they can bring the best out of them.

Still, motivation alone may not solve all performance issues of your team. Vroom (1994) stated that the performance of your employees is based on four factors:

  • Performance — how well the work is performed
  • Environment — the context in which the task is to be performed
  • Ability — the skills and knowledge to perform the task well
  • Motivation — the incentive to perform the task well

Thus, the project leader’s goal is to ensure that the team has the resources and the right skills required to do their tasks. They must create the right environment for the team, and then they have to continuously motivate the team to commit themselves to achieving the project goals.

What Is Motivation?

Rogers (2004) proposed that all humans have a driving force that stimulates them to achieve goals which are prompted by comparison of the concepts of ‘self’ and ‘ideal self’. Everyone has an ideal person in their mind in terms of abilities, strengths, and status that they believe they can achieve which is different from their current self. The goal for the leader is to create the environment that helps the team members to identify how the work they are doing helps them to get closer to their ideal self.

What Motivates Us?

Most people feel that money is the greatest motivator, but research has confirmed that, once you are earning a certain amount of income, money no longer motivates you. If an individual feels they are paid the right amount of money, then adding more to their salary may look good but will not necessarily motivate the person. Every human being wants to be respected, challenged, and recognised for their effort. They want to know that what he or she is doing is contributing to a greater good and even to the betterment of humanity.

The‘Topos de Tlatelolco’, meaning ‘Tlatelolco Moles’ demonstrates how contributing to a greater good tends to motivate teams greatly when their basic needs are met. This group, which was formed in February 1986 after a serious earthquake in Mexico, works for free to support government services. This voluntary search-and-rescue group will enter places that paid employees are afraid to enter to rescue someone. What is their motivation? To contribute to the greater good by saving lives.

Taking these into consideration, the following are some of the ways to keep the team constantly motivated:

  • Let everyone on the team feel they are helping deliver the overall project vision. This means there can be no ‘over-selling’ of the vision. Let the security personnel know they are helping to build a green energy project that will help in climate change, if that is the vision for your project.


  • Pay the right salary. I started by stating that money is not a motivator if you are paid right. You should not try to save the project money by paying people below industry standards or what you think they deserve. Once you pay an individual the right salary, their focus is no longer on how much they earn but on delivering results.


  • Enjoy the journey. Don’t wait till there is a big milestone before celebrating. Delivering a project is a journey everyone is on together. Ensure that your team enjoys the journey by organising team events that involve everyone — and make it more than just going out for meals. Organise sporting activities that involve teams. The Network Rail western and Wales region in the United Kingdom used to organise sporting days which involved tug-of-war contests. How the tug-of-war was won became points of discussion on what the team mechanism is and how working together can create success.


  • Celebrate milestones. Break the project up into major and minor milestones, and celebrate when you achieve them. Major milestones could be celebrated with badges, mugs, etc. The Hinkley Point C project in the United Kingdom used to celebrate this with nicely crafted badges, which made people proud.


  • Openly celebrate individuals. Congratulating others openly — in front of others — for their great work is a great way to boost morale and motivate. This doesn’t need to be a special award ceremony. Just speaking well about people’s performance when they least expect it is a big motivator. Thanking people for their great work with seniors copied in is a huge motivator.


  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Nothing demotivates like a team who don’t know what is going on. You need to have one-on-ones, group meetings, etc., to keep people informed on what is going on. The project should have newsletters and briefing sessions to ensure that the team are up to speed. This should not be just at the high, senior levels. It should be replicated in package leader’s teams as well. Some projects use a board briefing every Monday morning, where they all get together, brief each other, and give people the opportunity to ask questions and clarify issues. My advice is to combine all the forms of communicating with your team according to the size of the team.


  • Involve people. People want to be involved in coming up with solutions. If they are involved, buy-in is quicker, and there are fewer conflicts.


  • Set challenging goals. The human mind feels more accomplished when it overcomes a challenging goal. After achieving a stretched target, the team is pumped up and want to take on the next challenge. The motivation and energy gained from overcoming a stretched target should always be channelled immediately into the next target. Goals should be realistic; otherwise, the team will be demotivated. One of the ways to keep the energy up and team motivated at all times is to mix stretched targets with ones that are not so stretched. This allows time for the team to recuperate and keep the momentum going with the knowledge that they are hitting the targets. When a target is missed, don’t dwell too much on the failure; assess it, learn the lessons, focus on the positives, and quickly move on.


  • Give people the resources they need to succeed. No one is superman! If people don’t have the right resources to operate, they will soon become frustrated and demotivated.


  • Inspire and persuade through empathy and trust — not through your positional power. The new generation does not work well in the face of intimidation.


  • Manage poor performance. People want to know they are doing well. If they are not doing so well, then they need to be guided to improve. Also, rather than brushing underperformance under the carpet, you need to address it. Poor performance demotivates others as well.


  • Lead by example. Do what you said you would do. If people realise you do what you say and say what you mean, they will follow suit and feel motivated.


  • Care about the individuals in your team. Don’t give the impression that you are just about goals! You need to show a passion for the development of your team members. What are their life goals? Is there something you can do —whether by coaching, assigning different types of work, or keeping in contact — that will help enable them to achieve their life goals? If a team realises that their leader cares about them— and not just hitting project milestones — they are likely to respond in kind and feel motivated.


  • Ask only for the things you really need. Have you ever had a manager who asked you to drop the critical things you are doing to produce a deliverable — but fails afterwards to even review the deliverable? Later, they realise what you toldthem was critical was really what wascritical. How did you feel? Did your motivation drop as you lost confidence in the manager? If you do the same, your team members will lose confidence in you, too.


  • Ensure that there are deputies for your team so that the leaders can recuperate and recharge their batteries.


  • The leader must continue to evolve, adapt, and adjust to external changes to prevent the energy in the team from dropping.


As Peter Drucker has pointed out, the chief objective of leadership is the creation of a human community held together by the bond of working toward a common purpose.

Further Information

An excerpt of ‘Delivering Successful Megaprojects – key factors and toolkit for the project manager’
A few of the tools discussed in the book include the following:
• How to choose the right partner/supplier
• The pillars for a successful client- supplier relationship
• The factors to consider in choosing the right levels of collaboration for your project
• How to develop a robust but flexible contract for effective client-supplier relationship
• The dos and don’ts for a successful collaboration
• How to make your collaboration successful
• The qualities you need as a project leader on a project requiring high levels of collaboration (note that this is different from the skills required to lead your own organisation)

And many more!

Knowing the theory is good, however theory applied and knowing how to navigate around the issues they bring is GREAT! The book is about the practicality of applying all those project management, motivational and leadership theories to ensure that your complex or large infrastructure project is a success.

Author :Clement Kwegyir-Afful BSc MSc MAPM CEng FICE

Director of KAPM Services Limited. A specialist project management firm that help clients and suppliers achieve their definition of success.

Contact: info@kapms.co.uk

All rights, including translation, reserved. Except as permitted by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the Publisher

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