Denis Jakus

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Project Management: What Should You Know Part 4/414 min read

16 September 2023 Management

In the last article, we discussed about assembling a team and doing the interviews.

Now, that we have finally hired and assembled the team, the real struggle begins. Let’s put it this way. It’s only now that real work starts.

Assembling a team was a hard task but keeping the team running as smoothly as possible, is a real challenge, and can make or break your project.

One reason for this is that you should somehow become a father, mother, psychologist, and best friend, in other words, everything for your team member.

We are all humans and each and every one of us has some struggles within. So to keep everyone aligned, frequent communication is of the essence.


But to really know how to do people management and what is motivating them, I suggest getting to know more about Maslow’s pyramid of human needs.

We all know that project management is a team activity. 

There is no I in a team. If person A performs badly, the whole team is about to perform badly or lower at least. To put it in other words, a team is only as strong as its weakest player.

So each individual in a team needs to continually try to give the best they can do. 

If person A in a team is not doing his job, it’s either because (s)he can’t do it or (s)he won’t do it.

In other words, he’s not capable of executing assigned tasks or he’s not motivated to execute those tasks.

The manager’s task, on the other hand, is to find out what the problem is and to try to tackle it accordingly. 

As the team needs to give its peak performance during this marathon called “The Project”.

So, to tackle these two issues, a manager has two methods in his sleeves: 

  • Training
  • Motivation

But in reality, the manager can’t do much. All he is able to do is create an environment in which his subordinates can shine. That said, it’s not realistic to expect that people who are not motivated, will, by doing any kind of training become as productive as they can be. So no training in the world won’t help any person in a team who is not motivated enough. 

This is where Abraham Maslow’s theory of motivation comes into place.

Motivation is closely tied to the idea of needs, which cause people to have drives, which in turn results in motivation.


Here is the thing: to maintain motivation as high as possible all the time, we need to keep some needs unsatisfied all the time.


Let’s see how Maslow defined the hierarchy of needs from the ground up:

As we can see in an image the needs are from bottom to up.

Everything starts from Psychological, proceeds with Safety then Love or Social Belonging after that the next level is Esteem and it all ends up with Self-actualization.

According to Maslow’s pyramid, when a lower need is fulfilled, one higher is about to take over.

Let’s take a look at each level of Maslow’s pyramid.

Level 1: Physiological

This is the base of all other motivations. Not to be hungry.
In other words, this is a need that is aimed at things that money can buy i.e. food, clothes, drinks, etc.

Level 2: Safety or Security

These needs are aimed at protecting oneself from going back to a state in which basic necessities are being deprived i.e. being medically insured.

Level 3: Love or Social Belonging

In every human, there is DNA that drives humans to form some sort of a group. It is an inherent desire of each individual to belong to some kind of group.

That is a fact. As I said, “some kind of a group”, not any group!
Each individual is drawn to a group whose members have or share common interests with themselves.

Social needs for belonging are very, very powerful. There are cases where, for example, freelancers give up a good income in favor of working full-time for a company. Just so they are not alone or to have that feeling of belonging to something or someone.

Like John Donne wrote: “No man is an island”.


We can consider these three levels to be basics for every employee.

These are considered fundamentals for being a worker, someone who will show up every day in the office.

But there is so much more to be fully motivated.

Here are the last two levels:

  • Esteem
  • Self-actualization

Level 4: Esteem or Recognition

Esteem or Recognition needs are basically self-limiting. This means if we gratify them, motivation will lack and we will start looking for other ways of motivating ourselves.

What do I mean by that!? If you want to be recognized by a group/team or if you are looking to be recognized by someone you admire, the moment you get that acknowledgment, your need is fulfilled and you start looking around how to motivate yourself further.

Let’s say you have been recognized/praised by a boss. That would boost your esteem and your desire for recognition dramatically.

But, technically that praise would matter only to you, no one else would give a shit about a few good spoken words to you. That’s why it’s self-limiting.

Level 5: Self-actualization

Maslow formulates this as: “What I can be, I must be”.

Once someone reaches this kind of level, his performance is without any limits. They will try to perform better and better, doing this circular performance tuning without ending.

So there are two inner forces that will occupy one’s capabilities to reach the max:

  • Competence driven
  • Achievement driven


Competence-driven is basically task-oriented, which means they will try to perfect their mastery by doing repetitive tasks to maximize their performance.

Imagine a football player trying to perfect his free kicks by kicking a ball in training over and over again. Or imagine a Dota/LoL player trying to master his Hero by playing games over and over again.

In the latter example, you can probably imagine a kid who is bored while being in a class and waiting for those endless 45 mins to pass by, while when playing his favorite Hero in some of those games, those same 45 mins pass by as if it were only 5 mins passed by.


Then we have achievement-driven people, who are a minority by the way, and have that strong need to excel and to achieve in all that they do.

The one thing that is common to competence-driven and achievement-driven people is that they test the outer limits of their abilities. They try to max out themselves to fulfill their abstract needs.


So the manager’s task is to give high goals that are reachable but not fully doable. That way an individual will stretch enough, and will fail half the time. But in the end, will come up with the results that will motivate him/herself even more.

Using this kind of goal setting we tend to achieve peak performance of each team member

Money motivation

Money is pretty important when motivating individuals. But, there is a big but! 

The moment the individual reaches a level in which he or she expects of him/herself, meaning an individual has enough money to buy necessities that he/she needs to fulfill his inner satisfaction, the money will not matter anymore. Meaning money will not motivate me anymore, period.

Most of the time, more money and a steady job, provide no more motivation.

Imagine some Wall Street guy earning 20 million for the first time. The second or third time when he earns 20 mils is not driven by esteem or recognition, because he already has his lower needs fulfilled.

Money is applicable only to the first two needs in Maslow’s pyramid.

So here is where self-actualization comes into place. Now if that Wall Street guy defines money as a measure of achievement then his motivation will be limitless.

An easy way to find out at which level of Maslow’s pyramid an individual is bound would be as follows:

If a salary, which an individual receives, is important to him, he’s mostly bound to physiological and safety levels. On the other hand, if an individual is comparing what other colleagues have, he’s then bound to esteem or perhaps self-actualization.

So for any individual who is bound to the self-actualization level, some kind of measurement is needed. And here lies the catch!


If an individual is on this kind of level and has no competition, meaning it can’t grow anymore and thinks that his skills are diminishing then there is a high probability he will quit. 

So, employee measurement needs to be implemented and executed regularly!

Fear as a parameter

In the first two levels of Maslow’s pyramid, individual fears i.e. loss of a job.

While in the upper two levels, fear is fear of failure.

Especially for individuals residing in a self-actualization level, the fear of not satisfying oneself is the greatest fear.

This means it can cause individuals to back off, especially if he/she is constantly worried about failure.


So what about when a team member says “I quit”?

What does it mean and how to handle valuable member of your organization who wants to leave your company?

Well, obviously if he says: “I quit!” he wants to leave. Don’t be fooled and think like it’s out of the blue. 

Something has been cooking inside your team member for a longer period of time.

If you don’t pay attention, often this eureka moment:” I quit!” might seem to you all of a sudden. 

But it is not!

In short, you have failed as a manager. Why?

You should have been aware of dissatisfaction which slowly but progressively has been accumulating inside your team member over-longer period of time.

By dissatisfaction, I don’t mean he or she is unsatisfied with the salary. I assume he or she is already satisfied with it. Since I am talking about a dedicated and loyal team member of your organization who is already established in the organization.

Most probably, this kind of individual will try to leave your company because his efforts were not recognized by you.

So how do we deal with this situation?

It all starts with pulling you aside and saying: “Do you have a minute or two!? I need to tell you something really important! Bla Bla Bla Bla… I quit!”.

This is the time when you surely don’t want to evade your valuable member. Drop everything you had in mind and focus on him/her! 

Otherwise, you only acknowledge what he already feels like, not valued!

Ask why! 

He or she will probably have prepared a speech, so let them talk. 

Then try to really ask questions beyond prepared speech. Most probably this is when the real reasons will pop out.


In any case don’t argue, panic, or lecture. Because it won’t get you anywhere. It will only fortify the decision to leave, made by an individual. 

Now you need to buy some time for yourself to get more prepared for additional talks with him or her. So it would be good to rally other managers if you are not sure of what and how to handle this situation. 

Talk with them about possible solutions. One of the solutions would definitely be transferring him to another department, or moving to another project manager or project.

Anyhow, you need to offer as many solutions for an individual as possible.

Most probably if you offer something, the individual will say that you should have done it long ago. Again, don’t argue

Just say that he is right and that his actions opened your eyes and that the time has come to correct obvious errors.

The last thing that an individual might say during your talk is that he has already committed to another company’s job offer. But you need to say to him that although he already committed to another company he is still committed to you as well. The connection between you two is far greater and stronger than the connection between him and the newly committed company.

Although this talk won’t be easy for any side, you have to give the best of yourself to keep your valuable member inside your organization.

If you lose that valuable member of your organization, more employees who respect that individual and identify with him will start to question themselves. 

Their morale will eventually deteriorate and you might face much more uncomfortable talks like the one described above!

The bottom line, keep your eyes wide open. Every now and then talk with your team members about what’s bothering them so you can act accordingly.


As a last thing I would really like to talk about is a BURNOUT. 

I am sorry if this skeleton icon triggers negative emotions, but I really want to stress the importance of understanding what BRUNOUT is.

It’s a special type of work-related stress. As I experienced it myself several years ago (pre-pandemic) I find it really important to say a few words about it.

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.

Definition of burnout according to

But it doesn’t have to do anything with:

  • working long hours or
  • Tackling the multiple tasks

But it has to do with when a person:

  • is not in control of how a job is carried out
  • is in lack of support
  • is asked to complete tasks that conflict with their sense of self
  • the end goal doesn’t resonate with the one who is executing tasks to achieve those goals

What are the symptoms:

  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • heartburn or any other gastrointestinal symptoms
  • increase the potential for alcohol, drug, or food misuse
  • melancholy
  • tiredness
  • reduced performance
  • lack of satisfaction
  • sleepness etc…

How should we fight these symptoms of burnout?

  • unplug and take a vacation
  • find harmony
  • schedule free time
  • work out
  • get some sleep
  • find your hobby
  • and lastly don’t be shy or negative about trying to find some professional help or seek support from someone whom you really trust


To make final statements and conclusions.

As a manager, you should at least follow these basic principles to boost your team’s performance:

  1. Never take personal credit for the team’s success 
  2. Be critical and harsh to peak that performance
  3. Have that social skill to be accessible and human

After all, Project Management is all about people.

Thanks for sticking to this loooong post! 🙂


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