Motivating during difficult times

When leading a team on a difficult project, it is important to keep the team motivated and continuing to resolve issues. However, motivation is more difficult when working on a project that is full of problems and potentially headed for failure. Team members tend to give up when they see a project as hopeless. This can be overcome and bring great rewards as illustrated in 3 examples from my past:
• On a project where we had a late start and a long list of issues, concerns and uncertainties, I took the project team to a motivational seminar about ownership (of everything you do). We had the team goal of stopping a division shutdown by successfully completing he project. As a team, we “owned” the success of the project. Considering that we had to work many nights and weekends to complete on time, it really helped to have this motivation. We had team members that didn’t get along, huge pressures to resolve problems and were much overworked but our dedication to successfully achieving our goals trumped all that and the project was a success.
• Later in my career, I was hired to lead program that was one year late to start. Despite the start delay, the customer wanted the solution now (that’s not unusual!). It was difficult to manage both up and down the organization. The customer was unhappy about the late start and the team was disgruntled about the schedule that they saw as unrealistic. I found that thinking positively and keeping a sense of humor helped me to motivate the team to complete activities as quickly as possible. Of course the team did think I was nuts for being so positive under the dire circumstances but this method worked.
• I joined an organization as a Project Manager only to find that I would be leading Engineers who had never worked with formal project processes and didn’t like them. Their projects were very difficult as we built custom equipment per the internal customer’s schedule and budget. We were not allowed to do a feasibility study to determine if the project should even be started. Prior to bringing in methodical Project Management, the division’s management had micro managed the Engineers to try and get the job done based on a very lose plan. I had always believed in empowerment. It took time to convince the team members about the power of good project management but empowering them made a world of difference in motivating them to work hard, resolve problems and work as a team. Empowerment beats micromanagement any day!

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