Motivating Without a Cause

Being an Integrated Product Team (IPT) lead one of the main challenge I face is motivating my team members to own the product that they are working on.  This issue is further complicated given that we are a defense company and not every team member is cleared to know the “big picture” of what the complete product is or how it will be used to defend our war fighters.  Certain team member who may not be cleared to the program are prevented from attending classified meeting or knowing additional details of the program/product that is deemed classified by the government when the contract is awarded.  These people work on the unclassified version of the product, which becomes a classified product when integrated into a complete product.  This lack of knowledge sharing enforced by our customer creates a challenging environment for me and other team leads when it comes to motivating team members.

Furthermore, since we are a matrix organization, most of the team members usually work on a multiple products.  This leads to them spending more time on products that they have more visibility on or on programs that they are cleared to work at classified level and have sense of ownership.  You can be cleared to one program and not to another due to different clearance level requirements.  I have also found that many team members seem to spend more time on critical path projects that have deadlines approaching, sacrificing time from other programs and causing them to be on critical path.  Knowing these issues, I have tried several approaches to motivate and encourage my team members. I have listed some of them below with mixed success.


1:  Provide as much details as possible of the progress of the program and about the product to the team members who are not cleared to work at a classified level without violating the contract.

2:  If the classified meeting involves only few minutes of classified conversations, then I would move the classified conversation offline and hold the entire meeting at unclassified level.

3:  Introduce unclassified team and their work to the customer at every briefing opportunity to show their work directly impacts the product.

4:  Since it may take couple years for some people to get cleared to the program, work in advance of the project start to get the team members to fill out government clearance form to get as many people cleared as possible.

5:  Ask each team members what other program they are working on and what their workload on those programs is.  I try to work with other program managers to see that both our deadlines are met.

6:  Get status updates weekly and see if there are issues preventing them from completing their tasks and if they require any support.


What do you think of these approaches?  Do you have any other suggestions that I should implement?  Have you ever lead or worked on a project without knowing full details of the finished product?  What motivated you to continue to work on it (beside the fear of being fired)?

4 thoughts on “Motivating Without a Cause

  1. DK, that’s a tough position to be in. It is very difficult to be involved, much less motivated or committed to something if you don’t knowingly don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle. I definitely understand the need for clearance given the sensitivity of information and the directive it is coming from and am trying to recall how the defense branch have dealt or address this issue in the past. Your suggestions are good, but I can anticipate the mixed results you have received. Item 2, moving the classified conversation should always be the case and will allow for much more of an open forum for the remaining team members. Items 3 and 5 should be done ahead of time in order to help select the most capable team members for each new and specific project. I am not familiar with the way your organization operates, but I assume there are significant considerations on who can get clearance and who can’t, but if at all possible, item 4 would be recommended for every employee in the department. This will subside a lot of the ambiguity and give motivation to members, allowing them to feel more connected and a part of “the big picture”. As an additional recommendation, it could help to give comparison to a uncleared team member to a similar project in the past or perhaps a theoretical or anecdotal storyline to help them relate. That way they will have more direction to what it is they are helping to produce.

  2. DK, I started working for some classified projects within this past year and I can personally attest to how frustrating it is to not have the clearance level necessary for classified work. What helps me is always thinking about the ultimate customer. Even if I can’t know who that specific customer is, I know that the work we are doing can help protect the war-fighter. I think your approach to keep everyone involved as much as possible is important to try to keep the team on task. I think as the lead you might need to give a little more attention to the unclassified workers just to make sure they stay engaged. Not only asking for status, but maybe stopping by in person to see how they are progressing would help to show their importance to the team.

  3. I work in an organization where the team is widely dispersed across different parts of US, Ireland and India. Further several of these team members work in other projects as well (typical matrix organization). In my opinion, when team members are spread thin across multiple projects, it becomes difficult for him/her to be motivated by any one project simply because he/she is just focused on just completing their part in each project. In the process they do just the bare necessary to get their functionality working. Now I work in software, and I have seen code that has been hastily put together such that it wont scale, in other words wont stand the test of time. I have seen simple soft skills, for instance, appreciating contribution of team members, supporting or covering for them (from other project PMs) when they do spend more time in your project, being flexible with work schedules and being tolerant yet firm when it comes to deliverable schedules could go a long way to motivate workers/developers to produce quality deliverables on time.

  4. Your point #5 is critical. Many times people are not aware of the workflow of different team members and their deadlines on other projects. In order to ensure coverage and deadlines are met, it is necessary to be aware of what all team members are faced with. While it may be cumbersome to do something like this, it will help you achieve positive results and identify potential risks.

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