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The Role of Motivation in Project Management

The Role of Motivation in Project Management

Is motivation in project management an abstract idea that only a few can master, or can it be fostered and improved?

Have you ever felt motivated to do something simply because you wanted to do it? As a project manager, have you ever wondered what motivates your team to complete tasks and achieve project goals? What motivates your team? Is it the promise of extrinsic rewards, like bonuses or promotions? Or is it the internal drive of intrinsic motivation, such as a strong sense of purpose or a desire for mastery?

Maybe you were working on a project that you were passionate about, or maybe you were helping someone in need. Whatever the reason, you felt a sense of drive and purpose that helped you to stay focused and motivated.

The truth is, motivation plays a crucial role in project management. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations are two types of motivation that can either make or break your project’s success. I

In Daniel Pink’s book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” he explores the relationship between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. He challenges the traditional view of motivation based on the “carrot and stick” approach of rewards and punishments. Instead, he presents a compelling model of motivation based on autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Understanding how different types of motivation work can help create a positive work environment. This environment should encourage motivation and leads to successful projects.

Daniel Pink’s Drive and Its Relevance to Project Management:

In his book “Drive,” Daniel Pink identifies autonomy, mastery, and purpose as the three elements of motivation.

Autonomy is the desire to direct one’s own life, including the ability to choose how, where, and when to work. Flexible work hours, remote work, and self-managing project teams contribute to a sense of autonomy.

Mastery involves improving and excelling at work, learning, and achieving goals.

Finally, Purpose refers to the desire to make a difference and understand the project’s vision and how individual contributions help accomplish that vision.

Applying these concepts to project management, giving team members autonomy and opportunities for mastery can increase intrinsic motivation. Providing a clear purpose and understanding the why behind a project can also lead to increased motivation.

Understanding Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation:

Motivation in project management is critical to ensuring a project team achieves its goals. Understanding the motivating factors influencing individuals is crucial for project teams to succeed.

There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Personal satisfaction drives intrinsic motivation, while external factors such as rewards or good grades drive extrinsic motivation.

Depending heavily on external rewards can have a negative effect, leading to a reduction in motivation once the reward is no longer present. To avoid this, project teams should create a plan that fosters internal and external motivation to keep team members engaged and achieve project goals.

Daniel Pink’s research shows that external rewards have limits and may not be as effective in the long run as intrinsic motivation.

For complex and challenging work, intrinsic motivators like autonomy, mastery, and purpose are more effective and longer lasting.

Incorporating intrinsic motivators like autonomy, mastery, and purpose into the workplace can lead to more engaged and fulfilled employees.

Intrinsic motivation is the type of motivation that comes from within a person. An individual engages in an activity driven by their desire to find it enjoyable or satisfying. On the other hand, extrinsic motivation drives external rewards such as money, recognition, or status.

Research has shown that intrinsic motivation leads to better project outcomes. When employees feel intrinsically motivated, they are more likely to engage in intrinsically motivated behaviors, such as working collaboratively and creatively. However, extrinsic motivation can incentivize project teams to complete tasks within a short term.

Examples of Intrinsic Motivation

Pink argues that extrinsic motivation is not as effective as intrinsic motivation. He says that extrinsic rewards can reduce intrinsic motivation. This can lead to short-term gains at the expense of long-term success.

Intrinsic motivation comes from within, driven by the desire to pursue a task or goal that is personally rewarding or fulfilling. Intrinsic motivation can lead to better project outcomes, including higher productivity, improved quality, and increased innovation.

For example, Google’s 20% time policy is a well-known example of how intrinsic motivation can drive innovation and creativity in the workplace.

This policy introduced in 2004, allowing employees to spend one day a week on projects outside their regular job responsibilities. The goal was to encourage employees to pursue projects that interested them and to give them the autonomy to do so.

Google engineers have credited the 20% time policy with some of the company’s most innovative products, including Gmail, Google Maps, and AdSense.

Similarly, Atlassian, an Australian software company, has a similar program originally called FedEx days (Currently ShipIt Days). These are 24-hour events where employees work on a project of their choice. The goal is to promote intrinsic motivation by allowing employees to focus on projects they are passionate about and giving them a sense of ownership over their work.

At the end of the 24 hours, employees present their projects to the company, and winners determined by factors such as creativity, execution, and impact. This has fostered a culture of innovation and creativity at Atlassian and resulted in several successful product ideas.

Applying Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation to Project Management

To apply intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to project management, consider creating a positive work environment with open communication and a strong sense of purpose. Provide flexible work hours and opportunities for skill development to promote intrinsic motivation. Use incentives, such as bonuses or promotions, to promote extrinsic motivation. However, be mindful of the potential negative effects of rewards and punishments, which can diminish intrinsic motivation. Gamification is a great way to overcome such problems during projects.

The success of Valve’s flat organizational structure

Valve is a video game developer and digital distribution company. This company is well-known for its creative products and distinctive work culture. One of the most distinctive aspects of Valve’s work culture is its flat organizational structure.

A traditional organizational structure has a clear hierarchy, with managers at the top and employees at the bottom. Managers expect employees to follow their directions and work on assigned projects.

In Valve’s flat organizational structure, there are no managers and no assigned projects. Instead, employees are free to work on whatever projects they are interested in. They are also free to choose their own team members and to set their own deadlines.

This flat organizational structure gives employees a great deal of autonomy and allows them to work on projects that they are passionate about. This can lead to increased intrinsic motivation and to better project outcomes.

For example, Valve’s flat organizational structure was instrumental in the development of the popular video game Half-Life 2.

The game was developed by a team of employees who were passionate about video games and who were given the freedom to work on the project however they wanted. The result was a groundbreaking game that was praised by critics and gamers alike.

Valve’s flat organizational structure is not without its challenges. It can be difficult to coordinate projects and to ensure that everyone is working towards the same goal. However, the benefits of the flat organizational structure, such as increased intrinsic motivation and better project outcomes, outweigh the challenges.

Valve’s flat organizational structure is a unique and effective way to promote intrinsic motivation and to lead to successful projects.

Putting It All Together: How to Create a Motivating Workplace or Business

To create a motivating workplace or business, it is essential to incorporate all three elements of motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. By understanding and applying these elements, you can create an environment that fosters engagement and a sense of ownership among your team or employees. Here are some actionable tips to help you get started:

Offer opportunities for autonomy:

Allow employees to have a say in decision-making and give them the flexibility to work in a way that suits them. Consider implementing a results-only work environment (ROWE) where employees are evaluated based on their output rather than their time spent in the office.

Encourage mastery:

Create a culture that values learning and development. Provide training, mentorship, and opportunities for employees to grow and develop their skills. Celebrate accomplishments and recognize progress.

Clarify purpose:

To clarify the purpose, ensure that everyone on your team understands the mission and values of the company. Encourage employees to connect their work to a larger purpose and create opportunities for them to make a meaningful impact.

Create a positive work environment:

To create a positive work environment, foster a workplace culture that supports collaboration, creativity, and innovation. Recognize and celebrate achievements and provide feedback and support to help employees improve.

Lead by example:

As a leader, it’s important to model the behaviors you want to see in your team or employees. Therefore, show them what it means to be self-directed, strive for mastery, and work towards a greater purpose.

By incorporating these tips, you can create a motivating workplace or business that supports your employees’ autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Remember, motivation is not a one-time fix; it requires ongoing effort and attention. Regularly evaluate your workplace culture and adjust to ensure your team is engaged and motivated.

If you’re interested in learning more about the surprising truth about what motivates us, I highly recommend reading Daniel Pink’s book Drive. It’s a fascinating read that will challenge your assumptions about motivation and provide actionable insights to help you create a more engaging and motivating workplace or business.


Motivation is key to project management success, and intrinsic motivation is more effective than extrinsic rewards.

According to Daniel Pink’s book “Drive”, intrinsic motivation is driven by autonomy, mastery, and purpose, leading to better outcomes such as increased productivity, improved quality, and higher innovation.

Extrinsic rewards should be used sparingly and aligned with team goals. Intrinsic motivation can be fostered through positive work environments with flexible work hours, skill development opportunities, and recognition of accomplishments.

Valve’s flat organizational structure is an example of intrinsic motivation fostering innovation and creativity in the workplace. The best approach is a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

You can create a culture that promotes engagement and ownership among your team or employees by doing the following:

  • Provide opportunities for employees to exercise autonomy in their work.
  • Encourage employees to improve their skills and expertise, and provide resources for them to do so.
  • Help employees understand the purpose behind their work and how it contributes to the larger mission of the company.
  • Foster a positive work environment through open communication, recognition of achievements, and a culture of support and respect.
  • Lead by example, modeling the behaviors and attitudes you want to see in your employees.

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