Creative teams are essential to the success of business. They are the ones that design and deliver projects that bring about change; they are the ones that innovate and create new products and services; and they are the problem-solvers, who help find the solutions to vexing issues.
Such work can bring dark and lonely moments, filled with doubt and demotivation. This is true of team leaders and the individuals who make up the team. In any project, you will have good days and bad days.
Thinking back to my days as a PhD student, engaged in years of isolated project work and research, there were certainly times of despondency where the end goal seemed far away. However, these bad days, could quickly give way to good days of progress and positivity. What distinguished those times was a feeling of motivation and momentum garnered from ‘small victories’, whether that was having a fresh idea, completing a draft chapter, or receiving encouraging feedback from my supervisor.
Motivation is key with creative work. Creative workers feel engaged and motivated when progress is made in meaningful work. Such teams and individuals tend not to respond well to high pressured environments where there is a culture of fear. Instead, creativity needs to be cultivated, and a way of achieving this, is to ensure teams have an ongoing sense of progress.
So, how can this be done in practical terms? A useful way of generating a sense of progress is to break down a problem into smaller parts. For example, in a project, managing through stages and breaking down work activities into manageable chunks makes it easier to see progress and to help build momentum. There can be a sense of accomplishment when a project or activity is successfully completed.
We’re probably all familiar with SMART objectives – the key here is to ensure that objectives are achievable and realistic as no-one wants to feel as if they are being set up to fail. Provided these targets remain challenging and reasonable, having specific targets and deadlines will help facilitate the achievement of small wins.
Milestones along the way should also be celebrated. When the team achieves a breakthrough with a piece of work, or successfully completes the stage of a project, it can be appropriate to mark this in some way e.g., a team dinner or a small office social event may help boost morale. Sometimes a simple ‘well done’ or ‘thank you’ is an effective way of marking these small victories.
It is also important for team managers to be aware that ‘small victories’ look different for different people. It may vary depending on their job roles and even if you don’t necessarily understand the personal significance of these little breakthroughs, sharing your team member’s enthusiasm at these mini successes can be rewarding, especially if they have previously been languishing in the doldrums. Praise, when sincere, can be motivating and rewarding for individuals.
The opposite approach is to set a distant goal and take an all or nothing approach. Returning to my PhD example, when I took my first steps into this project, I knew it would be several years before I reached the goal. Whilst the end goal was always present in my mind, that alone would not sustain my enthusiasm and motivation.
If, as a manager, you only have sight of the end-result, and measure everyone’s performance against that goal alone, you are unlikely to motivate your team. Of course, the end-goal is important - you need to know where you are going - but to sustain the team on the journey, there needs to be a feeling of progress throughout. If you are dismissive of small victories and feel that the team is prematurely ‘patting themselves on the back’, this can have a negative impact on the morale of the team.
Never underestimate the significance of keeping a team motivated. Setting your team up to succeed and celebrating small victories is a great way of meeting your wider goals.