Motivational triggers in projects

a comparative study of the construction and consulting industries


Mr. Erik Åkesson, and Hanna Landgren


The existence or absence of motivation among project members can determine whether or not a project succeeds or fails. Establishing and maintaining motivation, however, are difficult tasks for project managers. Individuals have different triggers of motivation and it is a complex task to understand the underlying motivational drivers of every member of a project, especially because projects are characterized by constraints of time and resources. Each industry has a specific approach to creating a sense of motivation among its project members and the deciding factor seems to be the different social contexts that each industry provides.

Additionally, the social context of each individual project also impacts the motivation of the specific project team members, which creates even more complex managerial requirements. This study aims at distinguishing the primary sources of motivation in projects and among project team members by comparing interview results from project team members and managers in two industries: construction and consulting. The two industries are different in most aspects, but have the important similarity of project intensity and, as a result, the similarities in the two will help in identifying general motivational triggers in projects. Motivation among the project team members and managers interviewed is surprisingly similar for the two different industries in which motivation originates from three main aspects: the role of the project leader, feedback, and the project context. The aspects of understanding individuals and their motivational triggers are vital in project teams, because they play an important role in the establishment of autonomy, which in turn lays the foundation for development of competence. Competence is a factor that can be distinguished in both industries, but stems from different sources, mastery in construction opposed to learning in consulting. The three main aspects do not affect motivation in isolation; instead, they are interrelated and an increase in one area has the potential of increasing motivation in the other two parts as well.

Keywords: motivation in projects; consultant industry; construction industry; the role of the project manager; project context


Motivation is what propels an individual forward and is an essential factor in project success (Yazici, 2009); however, what motivates individuals is difficult to determine and understand. Individual motivation can be influenced by external factors, and in projects, the project manager and the social context are both strong contributors to motivation (Schmid & Adams, 2008; Deci & Ryan, 1985). The basic assumption is that all individuals can be motivated, but that the social context is of high importance (Deci & Ryan, 1985). This study aims, with the help of motivational theory, to describe how two different industries manage motivation in project teams. These two industries—construction and consulting—appear to be different in terms of educational level and production focus, but they both work in projects to a large extent. Project team members within the field of consulting are assumed to work with tangible rewards with a strong performance focus, whereas the construction industry is assumed to be characterized by a hierarchical structure due to its long tradition. By comparing the two industries, this paper aims to investigate whether there are aspects of motivation that are not industry specific, but relevant to consider in projects regardless of industry. As a result, this paper will look for common ground in terms of how motivation is managed and how project team members and project leaders in each industry perceive their social context.


The key findings of motivational triggers in the two different industries of construction and consulting, have been distinguished through an exploratory study (Saunders et al., 2007), which consists of 30 semi-structured interviews with project managers as well as project team members at six different companies. In the construction industry, project team members are referred to construction workers in projects, whereas project managers refer to the site manager for a specific project. The consulting and construction industries are chosen due to the fact that the daily work is conducted, to a large extent, in projects. The semi-structured interviews are chosen in order to receive qualitative answers and enable variations of questions based on the flow of the interview and to allow the exploration of certain questions in-depth (Saunders et al., 2007). The interviews are based on a similar set of questions for the respective project role in each industry (see Appendix 1). The answers given in the interviews are compared in terms of role and industry to distinguish between the differences and key similarities, providing a structure for the analysis. The answers are then analyzed based on a theoretical framework of motivation as well as recent studies on project-based motivation, project leadership, and team development.


Traditional Motivational Theory

Frederick Herzberg developed The Motivation-Hygiene Theory, which states that there are both motivational factors and hygiene factors in the workplace. The hygiene factors are such factors as salary, management, and company policies; motivation factors are factors, such as responsibility, training, recognition, and opportunities. Furthermore, the theory proposes that there are two psychological dimensions; namely, dissatisfied–not dissatisfied, which relates to hygiene factors and satisfied–not satisfied, which relates to motivational factors. The hygiene factors can contribute to efficiency of the employee by, for example, providing him or her with a bonus for a certain result. However, these factors are not motivating, at least not according to Herzberg's definition. Motivation, according to Herzberg, is something more long lasting and self-fulfilling, which is something that the hygiene factors simply cannot provide. Motivational factors are, as the name implies, factors that motivate the employee. Hertzberg states that it is important to keep motivational and hygiene factors apart when managing employees, and that it is essential to focus on motivational factors to avoid focusing on salary (Herzberg, 1966, 1968, 1970, 1982).

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is a framework that describes the different stages in which people can exist. Depending on which stage a person is in, he or she will strive for different things (i.e., different needs will become dominant). A person will always move upward, meaning that in order to fill needs higher in the hierarchy, the needs of less hierarchical importance must be properly met. The different stages in the hierarchy are: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. In conclusion, people have different needs, depending on where in the hierarchy they are or, expressed in other words: people have different needs, depending on how many previous needs have been met. This implies that a need that is highly relevant for one person might be completely irrelevant for somebody else, because the other person might lack the fundamental needs (Maslow, 1943, 1954).

Theory X/Y is a comparison between two different assumptions. Theory X assumes that employees do not want to work, refuse responsibility, and seek direction from others. Theory Y, on the other hand, assumes that employees actually like work, like to take responsibility, and thus can achieve higher levels of needs through work. Depending on how managers perceive the behaviors of their employees (i.e., theory X or theory Y), they often behave in different ways, which affects the employees' experience in the workplace (McGregor, 1960, 1967).

McClelland's Motivational Theory is based on three basic human needs: power, affiliation, and achievement. The theory helps to explain the differences in the drive between individuals and these basic needs are something learned, and thus subject to change with training. The relation between the needs might change as individuals satisfy different needs. This theory is almost solely focused on individual needs and does not include external factors, such as work environment, leadership, and cultural factors (McClelland, 1962, 1965).

Vroom's Theory of Expectancy identifies a clear relation between the amount of work a person performs and that person's expectations of and reward from the outcome. The behavior is determined by how the person perceives the expectations of a certain outcome and puts in the work accordingly. This theory has strong focus on tangible rewards connected to the specific task (Vroom, 1964).

Adams (1965) introduced the Theory of Equity and describes the connection between personal investment in the workplace in terms of skill, effort, education, gender, age, and how it is related to the outcomes of these inputs, and the relation to the input and/or output of other employees in the company. Input and output have to be in equity in order for the individual to be motivated; if this is not the case, the individual will decrease his or her input (Adams, 1965). Lawler (1968) later conducted a study that described the relation between input in terms of effort and output in terms of salary. Lawler's conclusion was that overpayment does not increase individual performance. Salary is a motivating factor when equal to the input or effort; however, increased salary does not increase performance further (Lawler, 1968).

Self-Determination Theory

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) is a motivation theory developed by Deci and Ryan (1985), and the theory makes a clear distinction between autonomy and controlled motivation. SDT suggests three basic human needs: competence, relatedness, and autonomy, as the underlying factors for motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2000a). Competence is defined by White (1959) as each individual's ability to interact with his or her environment, a skill that evolves through continuous learning. Baumeister and Leary (1995) define relatedness as our need to belong and our constant search for interaction. The definition of autonomy, according to Deci and Ryan (2007), is when individuals have a full sense of choice and acceptance of an activity. It is however important to differentiate autonomy from independence. The definition of independence, by Ryan and Lynch (1989), is how well an individual acts single-handedly and without dependence on other individuals.

SDT divides motivation into two different categories: autonomous and controlled motivation and states that the type of motivation has a stronger impact on motivation than external attempts to control motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2000a). Autonomous motivation is related to choice and free will, whereas controlled motivation is related to incentives and external pressure to induce a certain behavior. Creating and maintaining motivation using intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is a central aspect in SDT. Intrinsic motivation is our drive to be curious, playful, inquisitive, interested, and questioning, properties without reward or external incentive. Extrinsic motivation is when engaging in an activity with a clear external incentive, such as a punishment or reward (Deci & Ryan, 2007). Earlier studies show that intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is additive (Atkinson, 1964; Porter & Lawler, 1968). However, according to Deci, Koestner, and Ryan (1999), intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are not additive, and extrinsic motivation might even have a negative impact on intrinsic motivation. Empirical studies have found that if intrinsic motivation is based on the need for autonomy, then extrinsic motivation in the forms of punishment or tangible rewards will reduce the feeling of autonomy (Deci & Ryan, 2000a).

According to Deci, Mims, and Koestner (1983), the social context has a strong impact on the effects of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. As a result, an open and supportive climate can enhance intrinsic motivation. This implication shows that it is hard to assess the amount of motivation without considering the context. An individual can be intrinsically motivated, whereas extrinsic motivational factors still have a positive effect if the social climate is supportive, conveys feedback in a good manner, and not too controlling. SDT copes with this complexity of how to determine a good social context by using the concept of organismic integration (Deci & Ryan, 2007), which in turn, also explains how an individual can feel autonomous and intrinsically motivated and still be affected by extrinsic motivational factors.

Organismic integration is the process whereby individuals integrate with the environment, and how well the environment supports integration and internalization but also relates to the degree of perceived autonomy in each social context. Internalization within SDT means to what extent the individual is able to accept a value or regulation, and integration is the transformation of the value, rule, or regulation to become a part of the individual. This process is a natural process, but SDT recognizes that this process is more or less effective, depending on how well the basic needs; relatedness, competence, and autonomy are met in each different context (Deci & Ryan, 2000b, 2007).

There are four different levels of organismic integration, each describing higher amounts of autonomy and internalization: external regulation, introjected regulation, identified regulation and, last, integrated regulation, which is a complete assimilation of values and a high level of autonomy (Deci & Ryan, 2000b). SDT suggests that both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation have positive effects on results and performance, but only if the individual is located in a context that is well internalized, integrated, and supports a high level of autonomy.

Project Leader and Team Theory

Peterson (2007) mentions the common myths or misconceptions about the perception considering the role of the project manager and how motivation occurs:

“Whatever motivates me motivate others.” “People are motivated primarily by money.” “These people are professionals; they don't need motivating” (Peterson, 2007, p. 64).

To improve motivation, the leader should focus on the individual motivation of each member of the group, which will help in identifying the motivational factors for each individual (Peterson, 2007). The project leader should focus on optimizing instead of maximizing the motivation of the individual by, for example, giving feedback, permitting independence, and offering rewards (Schmid & Adams, 2008). The team manager has a large influence on the motivation of the project team, even if the overall culture is non-supportive. A survey demonstrated that a majority of project managers believed that they could motivate the team despite the overall company culture (Schmid & Adams, 2008).

One important aspect of the project manager is ensuring maintained motivation and positive team spirit throughout the project, an aspect in which empowerment plays an important part (Schmid & Adams, 2008). The communication of project managers, who talk as well as listen, is essential in keeping a highly motivated project team throughout the project. In addition, it is important that project members are allowed to participate in the project planning to ensure that all project members have a clear perception of the goals of the project (Schmid & Adams, 2008).

If good relationships are established between the project manager and project team members, the team is more likely to achieve better results. Beneficial relationships, in combination with empowerment, have proved to be a key factor in creating well-functioning and high-performing teams, mainly because it creates higher levels of job satisfaction and self-actualization. These are aspects that create a more involving atmosphere and individual ownership in the organization, which will increase cooperative and innovative abilities. Another factor in maintaining high levels of motivation is communication and feedback systems to ensure team members receive correct acknowledgment and praise for achievements (Jiang, 2010).

A key constraint in team success is the employees' attitude toward working in teams. If employees are resistant to working in teams, it will affect the final result and it becomes harder for the leader to motivate the team. In a research study that asked project managers which aspects have a negative influence on team motivation, the two major aspects indicated were: lack of top management support and personal conflicts between team members (Schmid & Adams, 2008). According to the writers, lack of top management support has the largest negative impact on the team's motivation. Lack of support is correlated with the project manager's ability to communicate the importance of the project to top management and explain the necessity for support and commitment (Schmid & Adams, 2008).

The factor that is described as having the second largest negative impact on motivation in teams is personal conflicts between team members, followed by increases in project scope. Personal conflicts can emerge from trust issues or individual rewards (Schmid & Adams). As a result, the ability to solve conflicts within a team is an important attribute of a project manager, which is closely linked to empathy, which is an important part of emotional intelligence (EI). EI is a term that is gaining ground and is closely related to the project manager's role in a team and its effectiveness (Barling & Kelloway, 2000; Rosete & Ciarrochi, 2005; Jordan et al., 2002; Druskat & Druskat, 2006). Because the role of the project manager in terms of maintaining motivation is related to understanding each individual, emotional intelligence is of high importance to the project manager (Clarke, 2010; Peterson, 2007).

Another factor that facilitates team motivation is to form teams in which team members can learn from each other. This will establish an on-going learning culture, which encourages team members to learn, an aspect that is related to the need for competence. This could then result in a better understanding of company goals and drive the whole organization forward by team members helping one another (Jiang, 2010).

As previously stated, working in teams can be an efficient way of achieving top results and keeping members of the team motivated; however, another interesting factor is how to assemble teams. The complex issue of team diversity is important and can be a key factor in success. It is argued that diversified teams are better at solving complex issues (Basset-Jones, 2005). If team formation is based on individual strengths and weaknesses and if the professional relationships are founded upon trust, a diverse team can demonstrate enhanced creativity and problem-solving capability. Consequently, this in turn will motivate team members and increase team spirit, which are both a motivating aspect and a creativity enhancer (Basset-Jones, 2005). Managers forming teams should take into consideration not only the functional competences of individuals but also the preferences that people have for different types of work and work contexts. If these attributes are shared by all team members, they may quickly establish trust. Teams with diverse members are likely to have a deeper well of resources from which to draw new ideas from, combining them, and subject to critical evaluation (Basset-Jones, 2005).


Feedback can be defined as: “Actions taken by (an) external agent(s) to provide information regarding some aspect(s) of one's task performance” (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996, p. 265).

The correlation between feedback and motivation is not completely straightforward; however, constructive feedback without any political undertones has proved to contribute to the development of a high performing team, and individuals working in such teams tend to get increasingly motivated (Lencioni, 2002).

The Motivation Potential Score is one method used to try to calculate the motivation level associated with certain tasks, in which feedback is one of the contributing dimensions to experienced meaningfulness and motivation. First, to be able to embrace feedback in an effective manner an employee needs to feel responsible for both the failures and successes in his or her work, and responsibility requires individuals to feel autonomous. Feedback enables the knowledge of result, information about the effectiveness of an individual's performance (Hackman & Oldham, 1976).

The first dysfunction of a team is absence of trust, which among other things causes lack of communication and debate, because individuals are careful or protective around the group and not comfortable in challenging each other. In great teams, high performing and effective teams, each individual is accountable for his or her performance and, as a result, admits to mistakes, failures, weaknesses, and fears. It is vital that there be no risk that individuals be punished for being vulnerable. Vulnerability consists of daring to demonstrate and talk about fears, weaknesses, mistakes, skill deficiencies, interpersonal shortcomings, and request others for help when needed (Lencioni, 2002).

One important contributing dimension to trust is feedback, to accept questions and input about your areas of responsibilities. However, admitting to these aspects is hard, because people tend to desire self-preservation and being vulnerable requires people to step outside their comfort zone and is rarely rewarded in life. Members of teams with an absence of trust hesitate to ask for help or provide feedback, because they do not trust that each other's intentions are good. Trust requires team members to put their guards down and make themselves vulnerable to one another and trust each other enough to be confident that their vulnerability will not be used against them. The key is that the provided feedback consists of feedback and not personal attacks, which are not to be regarded as the same thing. The key in overcoming that issue is to ensure that feedback is used purely as a development tool and, therefore, separate it from compensation and formal performance evaluation (Lencioni, 2002).

Studies by Deci and Ryan (2000, 2007) have shown that the context in which the feedback is distributed is important if the feedback has the effect intended. Deci and Ryan (2007) explain that positive feedback has positive effects on the intrinsic motivation by satisfying the need for competence but only if the feedback is conveyed in a context that is not controlled. Personnel will always play a part in any organization's success; therefore, it is important to ensure that the personnel are able to work as effectively and efficiently as possible. Another study by Vallerand and Reid (1984) shows that negative feedback could decrease intrinsic motivation by influencing the need for competence.

Social Context in Organizations and Projects

In order to understand and measure the effects of motivated project team members, a broader perspective on project performance is needed: the comprehension of the importance of organizational context, especially in terms of the corporate culture.

A study conducted by Yazici (2009) finds a strong correlation between performance, organizational maturity, and the relation to the corporate culture. Using Cameron and Quinn's (1999) terminology of different cultures, such as clan, adhocracy, market, and hierarchy, market and hierarchy are the most common cultures, according to the study by Yazici (2009). But clan and market are found to be the strongest drivers to performance in projects. This has implications for corporations with a culture closely related to hierarchy and adhocracy, which might not be able to reach higher levels of project performance even if maturity is high.

According to Bourgault, Drouin, and Hamel (2008,) project management requires a different approach than the traditional way of working to ensure performance and value creation. Because projects have unique characteristics, such as time-constrained, temporary, and includes cross-functional competences, trade-offs between autonomy and formalization need to be made. Bourgault et al. investigate how formalization and autonomy are related to the decision-making process (DMP). The results presented are that a high-quality DMP has strong implications on the effectiveness of project teams (Bourgault et al., 2008). Formalization has an important role to fill as well because it is strongly correlated to the DMP. However, autonomy is an important factor in teams, which in turn, implicates how much empowerment the team should be given by management. Autonomy does not have as strong an implication on DMP as formalization, but rather has a strong impact on the performance of the team (Hoegl & Gemuenden, 2001), which is supported by numerous studies (Dwivedula & Bredillet, 2010; Hoegl & Proserpio, 2004).

The importance of autonomy is clear; however, studies by Gerwin and Moffat (1997a, 1997b) conclude that project managers are not always ready to accept autonomy as a key performance factor. Peterson (2007) describes the project manager's role related to project performance as the role of maintaining a motivational environment for the members of the project team. Motivation is not something a project manager can create for the project members; rather, motivation lies at the individual level (Peterson, 2007).

Interview Results

The Role of the Project Manager

Construction Industry

In the construction industry, the project managers interviewed express, to a large extent, that the establishment of measurable goals is an important part of their role. Project team members should be included in the goal-setting process in order to create a sense of participation and to ensure that the goals set are clear and the underlying reasons for the goals are widely known. The project manager should also break down the goals into smaller components in order to be able to communicate the goals in an effective way and to show that the project is on the right path. The project team members describe that the role of the project manager is to delegate and prioritize the activities in the project, and that the project manager is perceived as the one in charge.

The project managers also express that individual project team members have different needs in terms of motivation; therefore, it is important to understand the diversity of the team while assessing motivation. Project managers also describe their important role in motivating their project team and that they can have a large impact on the motivation of individual project team members. The role also includes making sure that the project team members have access to good tools and sufficient training. According to the project team members, the project manager is expected to lead by example and demonstrate an interest in the work conducted by the project. One way of maintaining motivation is to listen to the project team members and not only include them in goal setting but also take their ideas into consideration. Project team members describe how management's attention to their ideas and suggestions is a central factor for feeling motivated and also express that it is important to know what's expected of them in order to perform accordingly.

The Consulting Industry

The project manager is described as having a strong impact on the motivation of the project team, and has the potential to affect motivation in both a positive and negative manner. In comparison with managers of the normal operations, the project manager should, to a greater extent, be able to rapidly establish and maintain a sense of motivation and support among the project team members. The positive impact of the project manager consists of enhancing motivation by assessing individual interest, keeping the spirits up when motivation declines, as well as prioritizing and delegating according to the requirements of the project. Another important aspect is that the project manager should set and communicate sub targets. Several of the project members interviewed describe the lack of delegated assignments as frustrating. Other important aspects of the role of the project manager are working with feedback and delegating challenging assignments. Project team members describe how project managers should delegate assignments when project members feel they are overloaded with work; with help from the project manager with regard to delegating the work, the task becomes manageable. By pushing individual limits with the confidence and trust of the project manager, employees describe how they can exceed their perceived ability, increase creativity, gain more experience, and thus enhance their learning. As a result, project team members describe the de-motivating effect of working with unexciting and unchallenging assignments and projects because they feel like they do not develop their skills and competence. Project managers should therefore focus on the development of project team members. The negative impacts of the project manager are described as negative feedback, non-constructive criticism, and complaints.

Several project managers within the industry express how their project team members are self-motivating, and as a result, the project manager's role in generating motivation decreases. This fact is described to be something that sets the consulting industry apart from other industries. In addition, project managers describe how they often lack knowledge of what specifically motivates subordinates, which is an aspect that is not prioritized. The reason for this is the time constraints of projects and the fact that the project team composition changes continuously. Instead, managers base their assumptions on motivational triggers of project team members based on their own experience and own preferences and/or on the company's values. Project managers also express the high importance of group composition.

Other firms express that career ambitions and motivational factors are parts of the development plan that each superior has with his or her subordinates. The establishment of these types of individual plans and performance reviews, however, concerns the normal operations and is not established formally in specific projects. Some project managers have taken the initiative themselves to use these kinds of initial discussions.

The project team members describe the large impact that the project manager has on motivation. Individuals are described as motivated by different things, which is why it is vital that the project manager have knowledge of the individual preferences that exist in his or her project team.


The Construction Industry

Project managers perceive feedback as an important factor in managing projects; however, feedback is expressed by the project team members as something that is communicated in one way—from the project manager to the project team member. This goes hand in hand with how project managers express feedback as a sort of “pep-talk” but also includes both positive and negative feedback. Another important perspective is the horizontal feedback between project team members, which in the project manager's perspective is something that is informal and not controlled by the project manager. However, the project team members state that feedback is not something officially given between members of the team; informal communication during the daily break is present though.

The Consulting Industry

The feedback process within the consulting companies interviewed is characterized by verticality, formalization, and standardization. The process is described as rigorous and within one of the consulting companies, every employee is reviewed in terms of three factors: people developer (how you contribute to the development of others), value creator (value created for the firm and the specific process), and business operator (project-specific skills). Some of the consulting firms interviewed describe how public recognition is used as a competitive feedback process, by ranking project team members in a project team according to the previously mentioned criteria. In general, the feedback within the consulting industry is most focused on evaluating and rewarding performance. Performance reviews, which take place at regular and structured sessions two to four times a year, are performed between the employee and closest manager. During these performance reviews, motivational factors such as work–life balance, salary, individual goals, and development plan are assessed. These reviews occur at regular and structured occasions, and in addition to individual reviews, project group evaluation is conducted. However, these types of reviews are not project-specific but used to assess performance in general and, for a specific project, the feedback is often reactive, and thus takes place after the project has been finalized. Feedback during the project is given in an unstructured and ad hoc manner.

Project managers within the consulting industry express the rigorous structured feedback process of individuals as of high importance, because the resources of the companies consist of the sum of the competence and the skills of the project team members. Performance reviews are considered to contribute to individual learning and development. Feedback is considered in every direction, both horizontally and vertically, in a straightforward and clear manner in which both parties have the opportunity to vent their opinions.

Project team members describe how they lack the education and support to be able to be confident in giving constructive criticism and feedback, which is why it seldom occurs between project team members or from members to management. Instead, feedback is given in an informal way within projects, owing to the personal relationships between the project team members who know each other well.

The Project Context

The Construction Industry

The project team members emphasize the need for independence and autonomy in their projects. This is somewhat confirmed by project managers but more expressed as a “creative environment” and an environment that supports good communication. The project manager mentions that the participation of project team members in decisions is important, but the project team members articulate a lack of possibility to influence certain parts of a project. The project managers express that the suggestions and ideas of the project team members are “taken into consideration,” while setting goals and deciding how the actual work should be carried out. The project team members describe the role of the project manager as the boss and that he or she decides what to do. Teams and team dynamics are another important motivational issue expressed by both project managers and project team members. The project team members express this as good team spirit and good colleagues. The project managers express the team dynamics as something where all members strive toward the same goal and that teams are set up in order to avoid conflict by not putting people who dislike each other on the same team, which is expressed as the requirement of an in-depth knowledge of each project member. The project team members express the lack of correct tools as something that can reduce motivation if the organization or manager misses the individual needs.

The Consulting Industry

Project team members describe the high importance of team spirit, a supportive and joyful project environment in which humor is allowed and where project team members help each other during setbacks and celebrate success together. Another important aspect in creating motivation among project team members is a rewarding environment that recognizes individual efforts that have been made. The recognition can consist of bonuses; however, acknowledgment from superiors and coworkers is described as even more motivating. Informality is defined as a contributor to motivation, by associating in a relaxed and non-work related environment; for example, by having dinner at a restaurant. Equally as important is that project team members are engaged and deliver what they promise. The competence, skills, and enthusiasm of other project team members are expressed as other vital aspects, because enthusiasm and motivation tend to be contagious and inspire others. Another important aspect is an effective environment in which decisions and processes are dealt with quickly. Autonomy and responsibility for your own work are described as other parts of what constitute a motivating environment.


The three-pillar motivation model

Figure 1: The three-pillar motivation model.

The key findings in the conducted interviews are illustrated by the three-pillar motivational model shown in Figure 1, and each area and its specific parts will be further analyzed.

SDT is the theory chosen as a standpoint for motivational discussion in this paper; however, SDT and the classical motivational theories are correlated. Hertzberg's theory of motivational and hygiene factors can be explained by using the definition from SDT, where motivational factors is the intrinsic motivation and hygiene factors is the extrinsic motivation. McGregor's theories of X and Y can be connected to SDT, because theory Y is related to the SDT definition of intrinsic motivation that all individuals are curious, playful, interested, and questioning. Theory X describes the situation of an unmotivated employee. SDT have specified the basic needs as the needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy and in contrast to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, SDT only suggests the needs that are connected to motivation and do not include basic human needs, such as physiological, safety, and love. McClelland's theory of motivation suggests other needs than SDT but is only a matter of definition, because McClelland suggests power, affiliation, and achievement as the basic needs for motivation, but relies on a strong internal focus of the individual.

Vroom suggests that there is no relation between higher salary and more effort; individuals only produce to maintain equity in comparison with other individual, which relates to the extrinsic motivational perspective of SDT, and that extrinsic motivation alone is not enough to motivate an individual. When comparing the two industries, despite their differences, several similarities can be distinguished for how motivation is developed. Based on the interviews, this seems to be accurate because express payment and bonuses are not described as important as motivational triggers, in either the construction or consulting industry. Both Adams and Lawler confirm this perspective of extrinsic motivation and suggest that there is no correlation between overpayment and more effort, confirming the idea that extrinsic motivation is not enough.

However, as previously mentioned, the social context has to be taken into account, because, according to Deci and Ryan, the context has a strong influence on how motivational factors are perceived, especially extrinsic motivators such as rewards. The combination of intrinsic and extrinsic in a good social context is what satisfies different needs and thus enables the individual to feel motivated. A good social context is defined by Deci as the degree of organismic integration, which is the degree of autonomy and internalization. This is related to theory about the trade-off between formalization and autonomy discussed by Bourgault and the different corporate cultures introduced by Cameron and Quinn. The combination of these three theories is what would explain a good social climate with high autonomy while maintaining a formalization, which provides a good structure for project management.

The Role of the Project Manager

Model describing the vital aspects of the role of the project manager

Figure 2: Model describing the vital aspects of the role of the project manager.

In construction, it is a motivating factor that the project manager leads by example, which implies that the motivation of the project manager tends to influence team members, whereas the behavior of other project members is described as more important within the consulting industry. Apparently, both industries perceive this as an important part of the role as a project manager in identifying individual needs. Understanding the individual is strongly correlated to different theory revolving around the project manager, such as studies conducted by Peterson and Bernard et al. (Figure 2). This is interpreted as a motivational factor, because the focus on individual needs satisfies the need for autonomy because the individual has an opportunity to communicate specific needs of choice and free will. It is important to separate this from independence and to remember that the needs for autonomy are only satisfied if the project manager actually uses the information to create an environment the individual can actually perceive as autonomous.

An interesting opinion of project managers within the consulting industry is the description of individual project members, in general, being motivated by the same thing. Project managers describe how they base the perception of the motivation of others on their own feelings and that they regard project members as self-motivating. These opinions are similar to the myths stated by Peterson. Basing motivational factors on your own experience might be misguiding, because motivational triggers differ from individual to individual. In contrary, theory states that the focus on the individual needs, social context, leadership, and emotional intelligence all are important roles that a project manager is expected to take. A lack of attention to individual interest, described as of high importance among project members, is the cause of these misperceptions of motivation. Further attention to feedback and individual motivational triggers would break off this behavioral pattern. It is important for the project manager to consider that individuals may and will vary, which is coupled with Maslow's hierarchy of needs and each individual may be on different levels. Also, individuals have different perceptions about which needs are most important to satisfy in terms of SDT and they are competence, relatedness, and autonomy. Theory explored in this study states that all individuals require an environment that supports high levels of autonomy in order to become and stay motivated. This implies that if the project manager is incapable of creating and sustaining a good social context, it does not matter if he or she is evaluating individual needs.

This finding is closely related to the need for competence but expressed in different terms; the consulting industry expresses the need for training in order to accelerate learning, in contrast to the construction industry that expresses the needs for tangible tools and other equipment in terms of machinery. However, despite the fact that the industries describe the need for management support differently, both indicate a need for proper competence to be able to perform (Figure 2). The difference is that in the construction industry the need for proper tools is related to the intrinsic motivating factor of mastery, which can consist of having the proper tools, machinery, or training. Mastery is one of the underlying assumptions of the SDT theory in terms of intrinsic motivation, which is interpreted as the satisfied need for competence. Mastery is the drive to develop a deep niche or specific competence, whereas learning is more focused on broadening one's knowledge base (i.e., becoming a generalist with knowledge in several fields). Consultants describe the de-motivating aspects of lack of delegated assignments and working with assignments that are not regarded as developing for the individuals. Instead, project team members emphasize the development of working with challenging tasks, which requires the project team member to extend his or her capabilities. In addition, project team members in the consulting industry express the wish to deliver a highly qualitative output and to exceed expectations through top-performance, as one of the key motivating factors. This motivational trigger is not described within the construction industry, which might be caused by the distinction between mastery and learning, as described previously.

The prioritization and delegation of work is associated with the role of the project managers (see Figure 2). The ability to delegate work according to individual needs and preferences has the potential to affect motivation in terms of autonomy. Sub-targets and clear communication are also important factors to create participation in the project, which is, as mentioned, a strong driver in establishing autonomy among the project team members. In addition to prioritizing and delegating assignments, setting and communicating goals are closely related to the formal role of the project manager. However, to what extent the project manager can delegate and prioritize depends on the directives and goals of the project and these are related to the mandate of the project manager, and thus the organizational structure. Because the lack of top management support was considered as one of the strongest de-motivational factors for a team, the mandate of prioritizing is evidently as important a motivational factor. Little or no support from top management might induce a more controlling and regulating behavior from the project manager, which implies less autonomy of project team members. As a result, a controlling and formalizing project manager risks losing motivation among his or her project team members because autonomy is affected negatively. However, in the industries analyzed, projects are important parts of operations and the project managers should, accordingly have sufficient mandate.


Model illustrating the two dimensions of feedback

Figure 3: Model illustrating the two dimensions of feedback.

Feedback is two dimensional and consists of both a vertical and a horizontal dimension within the investigated industries (Figure 3). The degree of structure and formalization of feedback is much higher in the consulting industry than in the construction industry (i.e., the awareness of the importance of feedback is more apparent in the consulting industry). The reason for this difference might be caused by the maturity of the industry, whereas newer industries are more susceptible to trends in human resource management. Another explanation for the differences might be the actual emphasis of the industry, whereas the consulting industry defines the competence of their employees as their primary resource, whereas the construction industry focuses much more on the output and the products that are created.

In both industries, vertical feedback, from the project manager to the project team member, is common. In spite of project managers thinking that horizontal feedback is present among subordinates, this is not the case. Instead, project team members describe a lack of feedback between each other due to insufficient knowledge and support. Lencioni describes how the lack of feedback is a result of absence of trust, whereas individuals do not allow themselves to be vulnerable to one another, which is supported by the fact that project team members describe how they only provide feedback if they know the receiver well. Due to the time constraints of projects and the discontinuity of constantly changing team compositions, establishing trust is more difficult than in regular work. Because trust requires team members to put their guards down, they must be confident that this is not used against them. According to Lencioni, feedback contributes to the development of individuals and should therefore not be associated with compensation and or performance evolution, as opposed to the public performance comparison in the consulting industry. As a result, the competitive environment described in the consulting industry can in reality be counterproductive in establishing the trusting environment that allows feedback. So, despite the fact that the feedback process, described as reviews, is well organized vertically, the mere fact that it is linked to performance can undermine its importance. In addition, feedback is closely connected to autonomy described by Lencioni, because project team members must feel responsible for their work in order to be receptive to feedback. Autonomy, as previously described, is associated with the role of the project manager and his or her ability to delegate and support. Hence, a positive correlation between increased autonomy and an increased feedback culture can be distinguished, and feedback can positively increase individual development and thus contribute to intrinsic motivation.

Another similar aspect between the two industries is the lack of project-specific feedback. Time and effort in terms of feedback are directed toward line activities or associated with the closest organizational manager, not with each specific project manager. Instead, feedback in projects occurs often reactively in the industries and because the underlying assumption of feedback is that the individual should feel responsible for the output. This creates a problem if the feedback is reactive because it could be hard for the individual to relate to the feedback. In addition, if the outcome of the project was successful, individuals tend to disregard feedback because it is more comfortable to ignore it. The reason for this can be connected to the temporary structure of projects. The perception of feedback is also similar for project members in the industries, whereas feedback is regarded as both positive and negative for the motivation of individuals. Deci states that all feedback is beneficial but it has to be constructive, conveyed in a correct manner, and the social context must be supportive to feedback. If there is a low perception of autonomy, there is a risk that negative feedback will undermine the intrinsic motivation of the individuals of a project team. The reason for this is that the feedback will thwart the need for competence, as stated in theory. If a project team member perceives the environment as hierarchical and controlling, it will be hard for the individual to accept negative feedback as constructive.

The Project Context

Model describing the key aspects influencing the project context

Figure 4: Model describing the key aspects influencing the project context.

An environment and social context without hierarchy is important in order for the individual to feel less controlled, and such an environment will be better in satisfying the needs for autonomy (Figure 4). Because there is support in empirical studies that hierarchy is a common culture, it is important to know that this culture is less effective in creating motivation. Results also show that less hierarchical cultures, such as Clan or Market, show stronger performance and results. Formalization is closely related to hierarchy and the decision-making process (DMP), and thus it is important to find a balance between autonomy and formalization, especially because studies show that autonomy is important for the performance of project teams but does not have as strong an effect on DMP as formalization. Even though informal environment is often expressed as something good, it does not have a strong relation to autonomy; a culture can be informal but still have strong controlling aspects, which reduce autonomy. This seems to be the case both in the constructing and consulting industries.

The spirit and the composition are important aspects in any team (Figure 4). Theory states that individual preferences are important when considering team composition, because trust seems to be developed more quickly in such a composition. Diverse teams also are better at solving complex tasks, which might explain the team composition in the consulting versus the construction industry. Team composition in construction is more focused on avoiding conflict, whereas consulting focuses on diversifying teams in terms of competence. This would imply two different aspects on the influence on motivation: Motivation in construction is mainly driven by conflict avoidance, thus ensuring a friendly and enjoyable environment, which satisfies the need for relatedness to a high extent. On the other hand, relatedness associated with team spirit is still an important motivational factor in consultancy; however, the need for competence seems to be the major contributing factor and diverse teams enable knowledge sharing and accelerate learning, thus satisfying the need for competence. Both the construction and consulting industries express the importance of team composition, but the implications in terms of satisfied needs and drivers for motivation are different.


Model describing the integration and correlation of the three-pillar motivation model

Figure 5: Model describing the integration and correlation of the three-pillar motivation model.

Despite being different industries, the conducted interviews demonstrate many similar aspects with regard to establishing and developing motivation among project team members, and thus have a great impact on project management in general. For example, the motivational impact of intrinsic motivation is superior to that of extrinsic motivation. As a result, some general conclusions can be drawn concerning key factors to take into account by organizations working with project management. A certain salary level must be fulfilled for individuals to satisfy their everyday needs, but above that, aspects associated with self-development are much more important.

Based on the interviews and motivational theory, it is apparent that each cornerstone of motivation in projects—The Role of the Project Manager, Feedback, and The Project Context—is interrelated and has great impact on one another (Figure 5). Hence, improvements regarding motivational impact on one aspect have the potential of increasing the other aspects as well. The important role that the project managers play in creating motivation is highlighted in terms of understanding individuals and their motivational triggers. This study implies that project managers are required to assess each individual at the start-up phase and continuously throughout the project. Despite the fact that certain industries attract similar individuals in terms of background and competence, their respective motivation can spark from different sources. The development of knowledge is distinguished in both industries, but the distinction between mastery and learning is apparent, and has implications on how the project leader should support and delegate as well as on the team culture. The understanding of individuals is of importance, especially in terms of establishing autonomy among project team members. Autonomy is not only distinguished as a vital driver of motivation of project team members but also contributes to several other important aspects, such as establishing an environment in which individuals are susceptible to feedback. Thus, by increasing project team members' sense of autonomy, motivation will increase and by giving and receiving feedback, motivation increases even more.

Both industries would also benefit from self-learning, whereas a distinction can be identified between the awareness, structure, and handling of feedback in the line organization and in project management. Project managers in both industries would benefit in terms of increased motivation if establishing a feedback culture in the temporary projects as well. As a result, the establishment of a feedback-friendly environment is closely linked to both the context of the project as well as the role of the project manager. In addition, the project context has an impact on the feedback environment, because team spirit and trust are necessary for project team members to have the confidence to give each other feedback.

Limitations and Future Research

The results of this paper are limited, because only organizations based in Sweden have been analyzed, hence reflecting only Swedish project management culture. Consequently, the results cannot be directly applicable to all other organizations because cultures differ in organizations and countries. For further investigation of motivational triggers in project teams, analyzing additional industries from a variety of countries is recommended to increase the applicability of the conclusions to all industries and to counteract the limitations of this paper. In addition, research revolving around size and complexity of projects will complement this paper, because the study only covers projects in these specific industries. Another interesting aspect of the findings of this paper would be to further analyze the composition of project teams and its implications on motivational triggers.


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Appendix 1: Interview Questions, Semi-structured interviews.

Interview questions for project managers

What is a motivating environment for you?

How do you motivate your project team?

How do you uphold the motivation of your project team during the project?

How big is your impact as a project manager on the project team's motivation?

Are the motivational factors the same in the projects as in the company as a whole?

Do you work with feedback?

Have you discussed with the members of your project team what motivates them?

Interview questions for project members

What is a motivating environment for you?

How big is the impact of the project manager on the project team's motivation?

Is there something missing in your work that could enhance your motivation?

Have you discussed with your closest manager what motivates you to do a good job?

Do you work with feedback?

Is there anything that is directly de-motivating for you?

©2012 Project Management Institute



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