How to Motivate Your Team: Naked Facts and Surefire Tips

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John Waldron

Sep 17, 2015 • 12 min read

How do you go about creating a positive and enthusiastic working environment that breeds a culture of high morale and high productivity levels amongst your employees?

It’s a great question, and one that many top companies are continuously committed to answering – and we are, too!

As complicated, emotional, thinking human beings, it is simply impossible that we can all be expected to stay in a positive, focused and motivated mind frame 100% of the time. There are ups and downs in relationships at work as much as there are with relationships at home – and as individuals we all carry around a lifetime of knocks, triumphs, battle-scars and hard-earned wisdoms that have shaped us into who we are today. This especially applies project management and human resources team - and this post will give you a few tried-and-tested recipes from the Netguru field.

Work to live, or live to work?

As a project manager (PM), the people under your charge will no doubt have worked at companies before where things like disorganisation, lack of communication and bad blood between employees may have negatively affected the workaday experience. Indeed, this may well be part of their story that has led them to be working with you today. The last thing that you want to do is create a similar situation for your employees, which may well lead them to lack enthusiasm and motivation for their work, or otherwise simply seek employment elsewhere.

So – how do you go about creating a positive and enthusiastic working environment that breeds a culture of high morale and high productivity levels amongst your employees?

It’s a great question, and one that many top companies are continuously committed to answering – and we are, too.

Firstly, though, we’ve got to understand the potential problems and the causes of them before we start trying to unearth the solutions.

What makes employees demotivated?

1. Uncertainty

We all work best when we know what we’re doing – and this goes for your employees as well. When there’s no clear structure to the workflow, things can become pretty unruly pretty quickly, and lack of focus starts to creep in.

Deadlines, for example, need to be rigid. It’s no good if at a Monday’s meeting you set a deadline for Friday, only to bring it back to Thursday two days later, which would be Wednesday (confusing, isn’t it), when time is running out. Rather than motivating your team to work quicker, it will more likely result in rushed processes that will be littered with errors – and that, in turn, will be no good for morale.

It should also be the job of the PM to ensure that the client is happy with the proposed development plan before work commences. Altering plans on the wing to deal with indecisive clients can be terribly frustrating when no one is certain if what they’re working towards is correct.

2. Work/time imbalance

When deadlines are unrealistic, employees can feel overloaded with the pressure of trying to get things done too quickly. Rushing work leads to mistakes, which can have a negative impact on an employee’s confidence – and all the while the pressure is still mounting up.

Similarly, when deadlines are too generous, employees can end up wasting time and procrastinating, which will be detrimental to their focus. Such a thing can negatively impact a person’s attitude towards their workplace as well – the office may seem like a place for recreation rather than professionalism, and this is certainly no good for motivation.

3. Bad atmosphere

Not everyone can get along with everyone. However, if the PM cannot manage all the different characters in his/her team in a way that they can all work together, then arguments and a resulting bad atmosphere will prevail. In extreme cases, some employees may even begin to dread coming into the office, which may lead to absences and a resulting slowdown of productivity.

4. Poor Feedback Processes

We all need feedback – including PMs. But, importantly, feedback processes should be in place so team members can address the facts, and not use the process to take out personal grievances against one another.

When employees do not feel like they have an appropriate means of airing their concerns, they will often begin to do it informally – and this can lead to much negativity being thrown around the office.

What are the effects of lack of motivation?

1. Missed deadlines

It is in missed deadlines where a PM will normally feel the lack of motivation first. An unmotivated team is not a productive one – and falling behind schedule is often the first symptom of such a malady to manifest in real terms.

2. Poor product quality

When teams are committed and motivated, it will be reflected in the quality of the work that they produce. However, the opposite is also true – when employees aren’t happy they will stop caring about the quality of their work, and the end product will suffer as a result (and so will your company’s reputation).

3. Professional burnout

When there is a lackadaisical atmosphere of lethargy around the workplace, the effort that is required to try and remain positive can prove to be very tiring for employees. And when the tipping point is reached, it can be almost impossible to turn the team’s spirit around, and professional burnout is inevitable.

A happy worker is an efficient worker… in THAT order

The International New York Times cites research that estimates employee unhappiness is costing upwards of $300 billion every year in lost productivity in the US alone. This is – quite literally – no laughing matter.

But importantly, money should not be the prime motivator for employees. Of course, everyone needs to make a living out of their profession, but a half-decent salary that keeps the bank account happy rarely translates directly into a happy owner of said bank account.

Writing in the Huffington Post, Marilyn Tam, motivational speaker and author of The Happiness Choice makes the following observation:

“In today's world, money is the primary (and sometimes the only) form of work compensation. Yet surveys have shown that the most effective motivator for increased performance and creativity is when one feels that his or her work has meaning and value. Understanding what drives people is helpful when designing incentive programs to increase satisfaction, and consequently, performance. Show people how their jobs impact the overall success of the company's mission and tie their remuneration to their contribution to the objectives of the organization. That way they can comprehend how their efforts are intrinsic to the well-being of the company and be motivated to fully contribute to its success.”

10 motivation tips from the Netguru team

A recently conducted review for the UK’s Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) finds that it is through improvements in job quality that employers can raise the motivation levels of their employees via means of improving their well-being:

“Employees’ wellbeing will rise where they have control over the pace and content of work tasks; where demands placed on the worker are not excessive; where there is variety in their work; where there are opportunities for development; where supervisors are supportive; where pay and treatment is perceived as fair; and where the work environment is pleasant and safe.”

Here at Netguru, we have our own methods of ensuring that our teams stay motivated, and we do it by placing heavy emphasis on their wellbeing. It works for us, and so we thought we’d tell you how we do it via the offering of the 10 tips you will find below.

1. Keep the team informed

We consider every single member of our teams to be of equally vital importance as everyone else – because they are. But, it’s important that we make each member feel their worth, and one of the simplest but most effective ways of doing this is keep everyone informed of everything that’s happening all of the time. When information is only shared between a ‘select’ few, employees can start to feel like they are not important enough to be included.

2. Encourage communication

We find it’s important to enable a friendly environment where everyone feels like they can talk freely – and we purposefully create a series of active communication pathways to make this possible.

3. Always ask “why?”

Problems naturally occur from time to time in the workflow process. As a PM, it’s important to always understand the reasons for the issues, instead of jumping to conclusions and making rash judgments. We always ask Why? a few times so we can get to the bottom of any development or QA problem.

4. Action After Review (AAR)

Failures sometimes happen – we’re all just human after all. However, so long as we learn from our failures, then we can always continue to improve. We always conduct Action After Review – especially after failure, but also after success. AAR after failure can put the team back on track by getting their minds to think about solutions for avoiding similar failures in the future – while AAR after success can keep up the euphoria.

5. Find and set personal goals for each team member

Sometimes a client can be difficult to deal with. They may be indecisive or abrasive and demanding. But, they are just human, too, and so sometimes we have to set personal goals for ourselves not to become frustrated with others or what we’re being asked to do. These goals may be learning to separate ourselves from any bad atmosphere and concentrate on what we find most enjoyable and interesting about our work instead.

On other occasions, it might be that the team is simply finding the project boring. In which case, additional goals should be set, which may include team members trying to develop leadership skills, or for mentoring programme to be initiated to bring junior devs along to be more involved with internal initiatives, such as webinars for example. We often also find that rotating people in teams and projects can help prevent anyone from becoming too used to the project in the first place.

6. Finding balance between familiar and challenging

Highly creative and challenging tasks are great for creative people – but too much can be wearing. Happy workers need a well-balanced schedule that contains tasks that are both challenging and simple, routine work that can be completed quickly and well.

7. Listen first, then talk

Employees can sometimes become frustrated when they don’t feel like they are being listened to. PMs therefore need to take care to always listen carefully to precisely what the problem is, instead of assuming that they have all the answers. Taking another person’s perspective can be tricky, but patience is the key in this regard.

8. When you’re wrong, admit it!

We all make mistakes – even PMs are human after all, you know. So, if you’re a PM and you make an error, don’t try and cover it up, brush over it or pass the buck. Just admit you were wrong – it will make you more relatable for one thing, and build trust and confidence amongst your team that it’s ok if they make mistakes sometimes, as they can always be fixed later.

9. Show appreciation for engagement and reward personal improvement

We all like to be praised (it’s the human in us coming through again). And so we’re not shy about rewarding great work or personal improvements with accolades. And displaying appreciation of one another is also imperative – it all helps to build a thriving, creative, motivated atmosphere.

10. Get to know your team!

Your colleagues have more to them than just their employment roles, and it’s important that you get to know more about that side of them, and for them to get to know a little more about you and your interests outside of the office. We like to organise get-togethers for our teams outside of work, where the only rule is that work itself is strictly off-limits for conversation.

We hope these hacks will help your team work their best and not get distracted or bored with the projects! Have you used any other tips and tricks you find worth mentioning? Don't hesitate to add them in a comment.

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John Waldron

John Waldron is a technology and business writer for markITwrite digital content agency, based in...
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