"All good managers understand the importance of making sure that every member of a team feels personally motivated and necessary though the workday, lest their work should stagnate and suffer," wrote Carmen Nobel in a recent issue of Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge newsletter. "But what's the key to igniting creativity, joy, trust, and productivity among your employees? According to recent research, the single most important factor is simply a sense of making progress on meaningful work. But creating an environment that fosters progress takes some careful effort."
Nobel cites a new book by Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer that I've just added to my "need to read" list: The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work.
The authors collected stories from 238 white-collar employees from seven different companies within a variety of industries. They had each worker fill out a diary during the day to answer a pretty open-ended question: "Briefly describe one event from today that stands out in your mind."
Have you ever experienced a day where you were head down, working like crazy but at the end of the day you didn't feel like you got anything done? I know I have those days. According to the authors, this is a big deal and a real motivation killer (my words not theirs). "We found that of all the events that characterized the best inner work life days, by far the most prominent was making progress," they say. "And of all the events that characterized the worst days, by far the most prominent was setbacks -- feeling like you've lost ground on a project. As a pair, progress and setbacks are the main differentiators of the best and worst days."
The good news is that although it takes some thought, Amabile and Kramer found that small events that have a major impact on work life. "Big breakthroughs at work are really rare. But small wins are something people can experience pretty regularly if the work is chunked down to manageable pieces. This suggests that you really have to sweat the small stuff."
I think there are a couple of really important factors that will help project teams experience those small wins at regular intervals. I think we just need to change how project managers interact with the team and how the team interacts with the process: