Life comes with its challenges, setbacks, and failures. We all expect that, and we know that the same goes for projects, as well. Even with the most qualified team members, the most supportive and understanding stakeholders, and most driven project manager, things are bound to get tough from time to time.
No matter the industry, a project doesn’t reach its end goal without going through a period of difficulty (or a few!). No matter the size, all teams are bound to go through growing pains, too. During these periods of difficulty, it can be hard to find and keep the motivation going on both an individual and team level. Keep in mind, motivation to keep going and push through challenges isn’t just a one-off thing. It’s something that needs to be nurtured over time.
As a project manager (PM), you’re often the one with a view of the iceberg (you see big picture more than perhaps anyone else on the team). As such, it isn’t enough to simply motivate yourself when you things get difficult—you have to lift up and motivate everyone else, as well, in order to get the proverbial ship turned around before it sinks. Fortunately, there are many different ways to motivate your team when the going gets tough.
Shine a Light on Where Things Went Wrong
However tempting it may be to bury your head in the sand or sweep things under the rug, it’s important to shine a light on the problem(s) at hand. It may seem easier to let things rest below the surface, but don’t keep your team members in the dark. If you ignore a problem or refuse to communicate about it, you risk playing a game of “telephone” where (false) rumors spread like wildfire. When people are left wondering, staff morale will sink and productivity suffers.
Be open. As soon as a challenge arises, communicate it with your team clearly and directly. Provide facts so that your staff not only feels valued, but trusted with this important and sensitive information. Deliver as much information as you can in person, if possible. Refer to your internal communications plan if you’ve developed one. This is particularly important if what’s going on is going to require budget cuts or personnel changes.
It is not enough to simply be transparent about the challenges your project is facing. Endeavour to get people’s feedback and input, and truly listen to what they have to say. Hold team discussions and 1:1 meetings. Ask your team members to bring ideas and solutions to the table for the problems at hand. Work to create an environment where everyone—no matter their title or rank on the team—feels like they can speak up and share their insights. When team members feel needed and valued, they will feel more confident in their abilities and motivated to continue pushing through, even when challenges lie ahead.
Chances are, your office environment is likely to feel a bit more tense during more challenging periods of a project. Do your best to keep a smile on your face and continue to engage in informal conversations with your team members as you would have before. Challenges are hard, and they often require all of us to put in extra effort, but it doesn’t have to mean everyone is miserable. While you’re likely to be under a lot of stress during times of adversity, don’t take this out on your team. You’re the leader, and you set the tone. Use your position to nip negativity in the bud. This should have a trickle-down effect and increase your team members’ workplace happiness and overall motivation to keep going.
Emphasize a Project’s Importance
It’s easier for people to stay motivated when they can see how their work contributes to meeting goals or to a project as a whole. If someone is bogged down with the details that contributed to the challenges, it’s easier for them to throw their hands up in their air and say, “What’s the point?!” However, if they’re aware of exactly how their efforts fit into the overall picture, then they’re less likely to get to the “giving up” point. Remind everyone of the end goal and the importance of their contributions, even when things are challenging. Part of the reason why this is important is because it helps to build a culture of accountability. This sense of togetherness and responsibility can be a powerful motivator when things get hard.
Focus on Culture
A strong project team culture can make all the difference when it comes to employee retention and goals being met, particularly when things are difficult. If your team has a strong sense of cohesiveness during the easier times in the project, they’ll be that much more motivated to stay together as a unit when more is being asked of them or the pressure is on. A project team with a culture of support and cohesiveness can increase motivation and overall productivity. One place to start is by creating a warm and friendly space where people feel valued and comfortable. If your employees are surrounded by drab beige walls and cubicles, is it any wonder why they’re feeling unmotivated when the going gets tough? Decorate the office in warm, inviting colors. Create a welcoming employee lounge where folks can share meals and coffee. Encourage employees to bring in personal effects to decorate their own space, too. They’ll feel more motivated if they work in an environment that feels homey and welcoming and like a space they want to work and stay motivated 8+ hours a day in.
Look Back and Forward
Once you’ve eliminated a problem or solved the issue at hand, it’s all too tempting to just forget about it, but that’s a no-no. It’s important to dissect what happened and do a post-mortem look at what went wrong and what went right. Document everything to avoid the same problem(s) in the future, so you don’t repeat the same mistakes.
It’s equally important to look ahead to what happens next. When things go wrong in your project, consider it an opportunity for growth. Take stock in where you are and whether you’re headed in the right direction. If you’re not, make a game plan to get things back on the right track. Decide whether your project can benefit from pivoting its goals or focusing on something else. If that’s the case, refocus your efforts. Remember, you don’t do it alone—keep your team members a part of this entire process of looking back and looking forward.
Leading a team as project manager isn’t easy. The best PMs are the ones who take the time to listen to their team members, value their contributions, and take action when needed. Resist the temptation to silo yourself away from everyone when the proverbial sh!t hits the fan. One of the most impactful decisions you can make as a PM is to go out of your way to include employees when it comes to brainstorming ways to solve problems.
Even when things are going swimmingly, it’s important to consider what you will do when challenges arise. No matter how amazing your team is, or how well everything is going, the tough times will come. Start thinking ahead about how you’ll implement strategies with your team, so you can weather the storm and achieve all of your goals. In the end, you’ll be satisfied you all pushed through and succeeded.