30 April, 2018

Ten Ways to Win Team Commitment on Your Project

If you want to supercharge your project team, your first step is to win their commitment. But although team commitment is easy to define and spot, it is hard to create. Yet the best project leaders seem to do it with ease.

So what are their secrets?

In this article, we reveal all. I’ll list the top ten ways to win team commitment, and secure a supercharged project team, that will:

  • Work hard
  • Collaborate well, and
  • Deliver consistently

PMI Talent Triangle - Leadership

The Two Parts of Team Commitment

Ten Ways to Win Team Commitment on Your Project
Ten Ways to Win Team Commitment on Your Project

I’ve been thinking a lot about team commitment lately. And the first important conclusion I have come to is that there are two primary factors that make or break it. People must commit to:

  1. The work you are asking your team to do
    To me, this is the ‘Task Commitment’.
  2. The team you are asking them to be a part of
    To me, this is the ‘Emotional Commitment’.

These two poles will give us a strong framework to develop your toolset. Each of the ten tools I suggest work both independently and in concert with the others.

Team Commitment Tools working Independently

Each of the 10 ways I will propose to you can and will have a positive effect on your team commitment, on its own. This means you can pick one or two and focus on them. If you do so, you will inevitably increase the commitment and engagement your team offers to you and your project.

This is a good strategy for a starting-out project manager. You are unlikely to have the capacity to focus on 10 team commitment strategies at once. So assess which elements are most lacking, and concentrate on those.

Team Commitment Tools working In Concert

However, many of these tools work together to amplify one-another. This is particularly so with the first five. When you have all of them in place, your team members will find it easy to slip into a ‘flow state’ while undertaking their work. This term was coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and is the subject of his excellent book, ‘Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience’ (US|UK). I’ll talk more about this at the right point.

The consequence of the tactics working together, is that you will get maximum impact when you lock them all into place together. They will reinforce and amplify one another. The result will be a measurable increase in team performance, as if you have supercharged your whole team. This is the right strategy for an experienced project leader. Aim for a full-house and constantly look for the weakest link and work to strengthen it, whilst maintaining all the other elements of team commitment.

Task Commitment: Set the Conditions to Enjoy the Work itself

Have you ever been so engrossed in a task, that you lost all track of time?

When this happens, we are usually oblivious to everything but what we are working on. It may be too cold or too warm. You may be hurry or uncomfortable. Yet don’t notice any of that, until you finish what you are doing. Your task had you totally absorbed.

Flow States

American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, calls this a ‘flow state’. And we often talk about being ‘in the flow’.

He argues that this is the optimum state to be in, for a human. Because when we are in these states, we are wholly and totally content. There is nothing else we want at the time. Wouldn’t it be great if you could create this on your projects?

You can. And the first five of my ten ways to win team commitment set up the conditions for low. We’ll see the importance of:

  1. Showing meaning and a sense of purpose
  2. Creating confidence and clarity about what you want
  3. Setting the right amount of challenge
  4. Giving control to the person doing the work
  5. Building the ability to see progress and mark successes

When you have these five factors in place, flow states not only become possible; they start to be the default. Your team will find its work intrinsically rewarding. That is, they will get emotional value from doing the work, rather than from some external rewards: material or otherwise.

Strategy 1: Meaning and Purpose

It’s impossible to motivate someone without giving them a clear answer to the question: ‘why?’

To get into a flow state, we need a clear goal, which we’ll discuss in strategy 2, but that goal also has to seem to us to be worthwhile. So you need to spell out the meaning behind the work you are asking your team to do; what is its purpose?

In the McKinsey Quarterly article, ‘Increasing the Meaning Quotient of Work’, Susie Cranston and Scott Keller coin the term ‘Meaning Quotient’ (MQ) as an analog to Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and Emotional Quotient (EQ). They state that both IQ and EQ are essential for peak performance, but they aren’t enough. Their research shows Cranston and Keller that 90 per cent of executives they surveyed identify insufficient meaning, or MQ, as the bottleneck restricting performance.

The lesson is clear. You need to find ways to relate each team member’s individual work to the project goal, and you have to show how the project goal is linked to something worthwhile. Perhaps the most helpful two words to remember here are: ‘so that…’

Strategy 2: Confidence and Clarity

Without clarity of what you expect of your team members, they won’t have confidence in what they’re doing. And, without confidence, the psychological doubt will prevent them from falling into a flow state.

On the other hand, having a clear goal and very specific requirements for your completed work will not only inspire confidence in what you are doing. It is motivating too. So, as a project leader, you must facilitate thorough understanding of your project, among your team. This will ground them, so they know what to do, and what you will assess them against. Your team members need to know:

  • The goal and objectives of your project
  • Your strategy and plans for achieving them
  • What their individual roles are
  • And how those roles mesh together
  • Finally, people need to know what behaviors you expect of them

Strategy 3: Challenge and Excitement

Challenge is another condition for flow. If a task is too easy, then we have extra mental capacity, which we can use for daydreaming, making our shopping list, or simply thinking about how bored we are. You need enough challenge to occupy all of your attention.

This challenge can come through the need for high levels of mental discipline and concentration, or because of the excitement the task creates, through a sense of risk, or a joy of participation.

But, it’s important to note that too much challenge is just as bad as not enough. If the task places people under too much stress, then part of their mind is focused on the fear of failing. That prevents them from falling into a flow state.

So your aim and a project leader is to select tasks and set standards for each member of your team, that stretch them to and just a bit beyond their current capabilities. Not only will that help them find and maintain flow. But, it is also the way to develop and extend their skill levels and experiences. And, as we’ll see under Emotional Commitment, that is also important for driving team commitment.

Strategy 4: Autonomy and Control

One of the main motivators at work is when we have the sense that we are in control of our choices. Clearly, a project team cannot act wholly autonomously. But within the constraints of your project plan, give each team member as much opportunity to dictate their work plan as they want: what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.

The counterpoint to this is that, when we don’t feel we have enough control, we rapidly start to feel we are under stress. This never brings out the best in people.

Strategy 5: Recognition and Reward

Of the two – recognition and reward – recognition is by far the more important. Reward is really just one form of recognition.

The first thing you need to do is ensure your team members can meet the final condition that is necessary for flow. They need to be able to monitor and assess their own performance as they go. Feedback that lets them know how they are doing, and adjust their approach accordingly, helps them keep performance levels up. And knowing they are succeeding is highly motivating.

Secondly, as a leader, you should be offering recognition for worthwhile accomplishments. Often, this is a reward in itself, as is thanks from someone they respect. The solution to providing this starts with breaking tasks into milestones.

And, of course, the best way to do that is to ask your team members to do that for themselves. That way they can monitor their own performance against markers that are meaningful to them, and you have milestones you can use to track, recognize, and reward progress against.

Emotional Commitment: Set the Conditions for Wanting to be Part of the Team

The second set of five ways to team commitment to your project are about the team itself, and their emotional commitment to being part of it. These are more independent of one-another than the five flow-related strategies. They are about two things, really:

  1. The culture you encourage within your team
  2. The way you treat the people in your team

Strategy 6: Professional and Career Development

in a moment, we’ll set aside any duty you feel as a manager to support your team members in their professional development. But before we do, I will say that I do hope you feel that responsibility. Consider… If your managers helped you, then how about paying it forward. And if they didn’t, then you know what you missed and ay want to help the next generation a little more generously.

But, if we do set that aside and think a little more selfishly, you should still look for chances to help your team members develop their professional skills and move forward with their careers. Because that’s what they want. The ability to learn and the sense of developing ourselves is one of the primary workplace motivators.

And, for many, career progression is also a motivator. If your people don’t believe you are helping them to learn, grow, and progress, then they’ll soon see you as standing in their way. And then where will your team commitment be?

Strategy 7: Relationships and Respect

One of the things we most value in a good workplace and miss in a poor one is good working relationships. After all, we are social creatures. So the desire to feel a part of something and to build bonds with the people around us is deep an powerful.

But human social structures are hierarchical. We all want to know what our part is, in the social group. And we want to feel valued in the part we play. So we crave the respect of the people around us. This means that it is essential to craft a respectful team culture.

And there’s something else… Who do we most want a strong relationship with, and respect from? The people we look up to and respect, ourselves. And that’s you, the project leader.

Strategy 8: Consult and Involve

Nothing shows you respect people more than consulting them about important matters.

When you have a decision to make, a plan to develop, or a problem to solve... consult your #project #team Click To Tweet

Involve your team – all together, in small groups, or individually – in every aspect of the work that you can. Not only will this increase their commitment to the decisions you make, the plans you create, or the solutions you find… Chances are, you’ll get better decisions, better plans, and better solutions.

Strategy 9: Be There and be Active

Leading by example doesn’t mean you have to always work harder, do more, take on the worst jobs. But it does mean that you have to be conspicuously present at times when you expect the most from your team, and you need to engage with the things that are causing them setbacks or concerns.

And again, I don’t mean you need to wade in and solve people’s problems for them. but you do need to offer a listening ear when they want to share their worries, and offer to help when they need it. But, if they say no, to your offer, accept that this is what autonomy means.

And model the behaviors you want to see. Whether it’s caution or challenge, openness or confidentiality, diligence or humor. If people are working too hard, invite them to go home early, and do so yourself. If frustrations are fraying tempers, be scrupulously measured and courteous. Your team will look to you, as their project leader, for the way to act.

Strategy 10: Take Care of Your People

Finally, the job of a leader is sometimes to not lead. Rather, it is to serve.

I recently wrote an extended article on Servant Leadership for ProjectManager.com. The idea here is that if your team’s job is to get the job done, then yours is to make that as easy for them as possible. So, you need to:

  • Provide them with the resources they need
  • Shelter them from intrusions to their work
  • Serve them as best you can

One Behavior to Bind them All

I suspect this will come as little surprise to you, if you are a regular reader of mine. Because I firmly contend that:

Project Management is 80 per cent communication Click To Tweet

And it’s communication that binds your team commitment together. You need to communicate frequently, and well. You must create trust-based relationships with each person, through one-on-one conversations. And supplement that with a strong team communication plan.

So that’s My Ten

I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of these ideas. What are your experiences, either leading a team, or being part of one? And, particularly valuable, what would you add? As always, leave your comments below, and I’ll reply to any contributions.

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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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