12 February, 2024

Project Team Performance: Boost it with 25 Powerful Strategies

Sometimes you really need to boost your team performance and get more from your team. Maybe things have gone wrong. Or maybe you’re just part-way through your project and everyone is feeling exhausted. So what can you do to re-energize a team that has been stretched and strained and wants a rest – yet still has work to do?

In this article, we review a wide range of practical strategies. We’ll divide them into sets of ‘hacks’ Each of them works on a different aspect of what contributes to the highest levels of team performance.

Project Team Performance: Boost it with 25 Powerful Strategies

Four Sets of Team Performance Hacks

Here are the four sets of hacks we’ll be looking at:

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So, let’s get down to it…

Physiological Hacks

Physiological hacks are approaches to re-energizing your team performance by focusing on their bodies. Now, of course, our minds and our bodies are connected. So it’s just a matter of emphasis in choosing to put these four hacks here, rather than in the more psychological sections that follow.

Strategy 1. Take a Break

Your team wants rest: give it to them.  Often, a short, organized break from work for a team activity will re-invigorate your team to the extent that the increased productivity afterward will re-pay the lost hours within days, rather than weeks.

It doesn’t have to be expensive (a slap-up lunch, picnic in the park, early finish and afternoon in the pub), and it can be work – just a very different kind. Volunteering or community service works well and for many teams, the physical nature of decorating, mending, or cleaning marks a genuine shift from the type of work they do in the day job.

Strategy 2: Early Night

Okay, you’re not going to be there to tuck them up! But for a team that has got into the habit of working late, try this. Set a day to finish work early and push everyone out of the door with a day to spare.

Often team performance suffers when you get into the habit of long hours. Not only does hourly productivity drop, but you achieve less in 12 hours than you used to in eight. Use this as a chance to reset expectations and create a ‘good eight’, rather than a ‘poor twelve’ culture.

A 'good eight' #ProjectManagement culture beats a 'poor twelve' when it comes to hours #PMOT Share on X

Strategy 3: Shape up Your Demeanour

How you carry yourself around the office, factory, warehouse… It will have a big effect on how your team feels. This was one of the earliest lessons I learned as a project leader:

Never under-estimate the impact your mood has on your people and therefore, on your team performance.

We take our emotional cues from the people around us. And the more we like, trust, and respect someone, the stronger their signal is. As a leader, your team will disproportionately take their emotional mood from you. So stand and sit upright, project confidence and enthusiasm, smile, and take an interest in everyone.

Never under-estimate the impact your mood has on your people & on your #project team performance. Share on X

Strategy 4: Move People Around

‘A change is as good as a break.’

Sometimes if you want to change a mindset, you need to move the body. So refresh your team by addressing their environment. And one of the easiest ways is to reconfigure who works where. It creates a fresh start and, notably, triggers new communication patterns.

This is important, as we’ll see in the next section. So, as your project moves into a new phase, it’s a good time to think about the new links that will strengthen your team’s performance. Use seating arrangements and office locations as a lever to reset some new communication and relationship links.

Relationship Hacks

Relationships are one of the strongest workplace motivators. After all, if you work full-time, you will be spending more of your waking hours with your colleagues than with your friends, family, or chosen partner.

As a result, anything you can do to improve working relationships among team members is bound to have a positive impact on team performance.

Strategy 5. ‘Good Morning’

Yeah, yeah, I know. You need to check your email, see your boss, or prepare for your first meeting. No, you need to get your first coffee.

Wrong. Make your first task to wander around and say ‘good morning’ to your team. It’s a bit like turning up at a party… The way your host greets you (or not) when you arrive, can have a big impact on your mood. No, it won’t always make or spoil the whole party. But it can affect how much you enjoy the first hour. And one hour a day represents anything up to 12 percent of your team’s performance.

Strategy 6. Questioning

I am forever advising leaders at leadership development training and workshops that questions are a magic bullet to leadership effectiveness. They contribute to gravitas, executive presence, problem-solving, decision-making, and… team performance.

Your job isn’t to have all the answers. It’s to ensure all the questions get answers. And questions are the way you do that. They tell your team you value their opinions, and they access thinking from more people with wider cumulative experience and different perspectives to your own.

Good questions are the magic bullet to #leadership impact. #PMOT Share on X

Strategy 7. Listen

But it’s a no-brainer. If you are going to ask questions, you need to listen.

When I train people in the art of attentive listening, the main thing I focus on is turning off the voice in their heads. Listen to what I’m saying, rather than:

  • Trying to anticipate what I’ll say
  • Planning your response
  • Preparing your next question
  • Thinking about your next meeting

More recently, I have added another tip that I really ought not to need to give. Turn off your phone and put it down.

Strategy 8. A Problem Shared…

The next step once you have nailed your listening skills is to take them out for a spin. Act as a sounding board for your team members’ problems, frustrations, and disappointments.

You rarely need to offer solutions – they can do that for themselves.  But they will value you most when you can listen uncritically and provide absolute support. And where necessary, a sensitive, generous response can be a great help and really improve this one team member’s performance. Better to have 100 percent of my attention for half a day, than 20 percent of it for a whole day.

Strategy 9. Good News

Make a real effort to identify good news items you can report to the team. And provide a stream of honest updates that highlight the real progress of the team and the contribution their work is making.

Good news from the outside, in the form of novelty items from the web, can also lighten the mood and create a shared, fun experience. Here’s the general principle: ‘One or two cute dogs, epic fails, or astonishing feats per week is good’. More of them will hurt team performance.

Strategy 10. Refresh Team Meeting Format

You already have a set of team meetings. But when you need to re-invigorate your team, it’s time to review them. Re-assess what meetings you need. And for greater impact, re-think how you conduct each one.  As projects progress, communication needs to change, so reset the meeting formats to better serve your project and your team’s performance.

Strategy 11. Learning Reviews

One of the biggest motivators you can harness is our pride in developing ourselves and growing as individuals and as professionals. Create slots for team members to chat with a mentor about what they are learning and how they are developing.

Often, when we realize how much we’ve grown, we get a renewed sense of commitment. And when you learn how much I have developed, you can reallocate me to new work that will stretch me further and encourage a boost in my performance levels.

Motivational Hacks

In the section on Relationship Hacks, we have explicitly identified two big motivators: relationships and learning, or growth. here, we’ll see how other powerful motivators can also provide the key to enhancing your team’s performance.

Strategy 12. Remind Your Team Why they’re Doing it

When we forget the purpose behind what we are doing, it’s easy to lose our motivation. So find a chance to remind people about the goals and what they mean to your organization, clients, and other stakeholders. The more people are able to see that their work is worthwhile, the easier it will be to motivate them.

The more people can see that their #project is worthwhile, the easier it is to motivate them. #PMOT Share on X

Strategy 13. Gratitude

Team performance often takes a dip when things go wrong. And when this happens, people tend to fixate on the problems, setbacks, and disappointments. This can mean performance will drop further. Any sports performer knows the experience of ‘choking’ – which often happens when we drop out of ‘automatic’ doing mode and start to get stuck in our heads.

One powerful way to reverse this is to refocus your team’s attention back on its successes and its strengths. On a personal and team level, focusing on the things we can be grateful for, will be a big help in resetting the mood.

Strategy 14. Roll up your sleeves

In times of adversity, we want our leaders to lead us. And we may know that they need time to think, either alone or with a few trusted colleagues. But more viscerally, we want to see them on the front line of the project with us. So it’s time to roll up your sleeves and help out.

Indeed, the concept of servant leadership suggests that you need to do whatever it takes to make your team successful. if this means doing the menial, dull, laborious tasks while your specialist team members do the interesting stuff, then so be it. Go to where your team is struggling and get your hands messy.

Strategy 15. Celebration

Who doesn’t love a celebration? When you celebrate your team performance, or the successes of several individuals, you remind everyone of their success, which will make them feel good. And when we feel good, we gain confidence. Confidence leads to better performance and that leads back to more success.

Well-placed celebration leads to a positive feedback cycle, so to re-invigorate your team, re-energize your celebration process. Check out our video, Why and How to Celebrate Project Completion.

Well-placed celebration creates positive feedback cycle. To re-invogorate your #project team, re-energize your celebration process. Share on X

Strategy 16. Optimism

It is easy to feel down, under the pressures of deadlines and setbacks.  As I said above, your team will take their emotional cues from you. So cultivate an optimistic slant: not just shallow ‘glass half-full’ optimism but a real focus on opportunities and solutions.  And always demonstrate your faith in each individual and in the team as a whole.

Strategy 17. Greater Authority

If your team has been working together for a while, consider the development each member has been through. Now review how much autonomy, control, and authority each person has.  Can you give them more, to both challenge and refresh them, and to lighten your own load?

Learn more about Motivation

Management Hacks

Our last section focuses on the more traditional, ‘managerial’ approaches. These are specific workplace actions you can take that will boost your team performance by creating a sense of rhythm, control, and structure.

Strategy 18. One-to-ones

Renew your efforts to be available to your team members. Schedule a series of one-to-one meetings so you can precisely gauge the mood of your team, and listen to each individual’s triumphs and concerns.

Also, use this as your cue to review whether you are as easy to approach as you’d like (and as your team would like). I know few of us have an office door to leave open. But ask yourself what signals you send out. Are they ‘open door signals’, or ‘door closed signals’?

Good #ProjectManagement: Ask yourself what signals you send out. 'Open door signals', or 'Door closed signals'? Share on X

Strategy 19. Hold an Event

Yes, I know team-building events can be deadly, expensive, and a complete waste of time. Never ever do an event like this unless you are clear about what the outcome is, and equally clear about how the activities relate to both the outcome and the work.

That said, do consider whether some form of appropriate event will give the kind of relaunch to your team performance that you need. If it is worth doing, then it is worth doing well. This may not mean investing a lot of money in it, but certainly does mean investing a lot of time in planning it carefully.

And another caution, if I may. By all means delegate elements of that planning. But because this event will be instrumental in getting so much right (or wrong) in the days and weeks afterward, never take your eye off this. It’s your event and your responsibility.

Strategy 20. Recognize and Reward

Recognize individual and team successes and set up a scheme for making that recognition public, and rewarding them:

  • ‘person of the month’
  • ‘innovation of the week’
  • ‘gaff of the day’

These can all be a reason for the team to get together and feel good about themselves.  Token gifts and a round of applause are all you need.

Strategy 21. … and Tackle Under-performance

Creating great team performance is not all happy-clappy pats on the back. Persistent under-performers can sap a team’s energy.  When colleagues do not pull their weight, it feels unfair and demotivates us all. So deal with any issues promptly, to ensure everyone feels that all their colleagues are contributing fully.

Strategy 22. Review Milestones and Schedules

Take a time-out to review your plan critically and evaluate your schedule and milestones.  Show your team that unreasonable milestones can move or that you are re-prioritizing work to meet them.

And let them know you are confident that challenging milestones are achievable. This will renew their sense of optimism and their sense of urgency.

Strategy 23. Swap Roles

Where possible, re-energize individuals by giving them new roles.  This can give fresh eyes to a stale problem, and new energy to a tired team member.

People learn most after a settling-in period, and then learning declines. So don’t swap too often, but don’t leave people to stagnate with little new to learn.

Strategy 24. New Blood

You may also want to go one step further. Maybe it’s time for a real change.  Bringing in an outsider or two can shake up the team, put them on their mettle, and introduce new thinking.

Sadly, this may also mean benching a valuable team member. But if you do it well, this can be their chance to continue growing in a new role, when they have outgrown the role they are in.

Strategy 25. Reboot

What happens when your computer stops running well? You know; when there are too many apps open, the memory is full, and it keeps crashing…

That’s right…

Turn it off, and then on again.
[There’s a job for me in IT support if I want it!]

It works, and it can work with a very over-stale team.

Draw a line under work done so far. Recognize its successes, and also recognize the need for something new. Then package up a whole load of the suggestions above, and carry out a re-launch. Turn your team off, and turn it on again. But now, it’s in a new configuration, with some new practices and processes, and (if you get it right) new optimism, energy, and commitment.

If your #project team needs a performance boost, maybe it's time for a reboot. #PMOT Share on X

Learn More

We have over 40 videos and articles covering just about every aspect of teams: team building, team leadership, and lots of specific issues.

See our full teams-related content here:

And here are some of my favorites that are relevant to deepen your understanding of some of the topics in this article:

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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