Setting team goals is important for any leader. When you get it right, you can improve motivation and performance. Getting it wrong can have quite the opposite effect.
During my career, I experienced various levels of team goal setting from good to bad, and sometimes non-existent.
In this post, I’ll provide some tips that I believe lead to better goal setting which will actually help you and your team, rather than just be an administrative burden.
Why Is Setting Team Goals Important?
We’ve all seen different forms of goals in different workplaces, so they’re nothing new.
However, sometimes I think we forget the purpose of setting them in the first place. They are just there, as part of the furniture.
Let’s pause to take a quick look at some of the good reasons for setting team goals.
- Motivation. Goals give your people something to strive for. This can help to give them a sense of purpose, which is an important factor in motivation, according to the work of Dan Pink.
- A focus on results. A big part of a leader’s role is to focus on results. After all, a team only exists because it contributes to the outcomes of an organisation. A lack of focus on results is one of Patrick Lencioni’s 5 dysfunctions of a team, which we should also pay attention to.
- Feedback. When team members have a good set of goals, the goals are a source of feedback. Feedback helps them see where they’re doing well or need to get better.
- Organisational alignment. Getting hundreds or thousands of people moving in the same direction is not easy. Setting team goals is one way to help to do that. If you can align the individual, team and departmental goals of an organisation, you can hopefully steer the ship to where you need it to go!
Unfortunately, I’ve worked in many organisations where people are cynical about goals. They aren’t motivational, are too vague, or are simply considered to be an administrative overhead with little value.
Let’s see if we can reduce these issues and set better team goals.
Learn More: How Leaders Can Make Progress Towards Scary Goals.
Team vs. Individual Goals
When leading a team, it’s a good idea to have a set of team goals that people can collectively strive for.
When you hit these, it’s an indication of whether the team is working well together as a whole. However, it’s not the entire picture.
Individual goals can be important too. These are tailored more specifically towards an individual and the role that they play, rather than the overall team goals.
Individual goals allow you to provide personal feedback and gives people a sense of how they’re performing. When the goals are all sitting at a team level, that personal focus is more difficult to achieve.
Ideally, you’ll have a set of individual goals that are aligned to the team goals. This means that people can see how their own efforts link to the performance of the team.
Even better, your team goals will also align to those of the organisation. This provides clear line of sight all the way from individual performance to the performance of the organisation as a whole.
What’s the Difference Between Goals, Objectives and KPIs?
Goals, objectives and KPIs are terms that are often used interchangeably.
However, they aren’t all the same thing. A goal is usually at a higher level and less specific than an objective. A KPI (or Key Performance Indicator) is simply a measurement, rather than a target.
Let’s clarify this with an example.
A company’s goal might be to improve our online (internet) presence with our customers. As you can see, this is quite broad, and cannot be measured very easily.
One objective that could link to this goal might be to increase the number of visits to our website by 20 percent. You might have several objectives that could link to the higher-level goal, to cover the goal from different angles.
The KPI in this example would be the number of website visits. The KPI is just a measurement – it doesn’t tell you whether the website visits are too high or low, because this information is captured as part of the objective.
For simplicity’s sake, for the rest of this post, I’m going to refer mainly to goals, rather than switch around the terms too much. But just note that there can be differences between these terms, depending on who is using them!
What Do Good Goals Look Like?
There is a useful framework that has been around for a long time – it’s called SMART.
The purpose of making your goals SMART is so you can be sure that you’ll know when you’ve achieved them (or not).
SMART stands for:
- S – Specific: Make sure your goal is narrow in focus, so it is clear and concise. This could be limiting your goal to talk about a specific product, location or customer segment.
- M – Measurable: This is about making sure you can measure achievement of the goal. Whether it be number of barrels produced, litres of water saved, number of customers served or some other metric.
- A – Achievable: An achievable goal is one that is in your work scope and realistic. If a goal is outside of your team’s control or wildly unrealistic, it’s not achievable (or very motivating).
- R – Relevant: Relevance is about whether you should be doing this right now. For a team member, this might mean assessing whether their individual goal aligns with the work of the team. Or, it could be about questioning whether this goal is something to focus on now, or maybe later.
- T – Time bound: This one is very important, and it’s about setting a time limit. Without an end-time to measure this goal, you’ll never know whether you’ve achieved it!
SMART is a basic framework that is the starting point for a good goal. But it isn’t all there is, so let’s look at some of the other important tips for setting team goals.
Learn More: Mind Tools: SMART Goals.
#1: When Setting Team Goals, Make Them Matter
One of the biggest problems I see with team goal setting is that the goals are uninspired and disconnected from the work of the team.
Break the Goals Down to Make Them More Relevant
I sometimes see business-unit or divisional goals that are “cascaded” down to the teams within them, and then sometimes these are cascaded further to the team members.
This means you might end up with a team member having a goal like “Improve the reputation of the organisation within the community.”
This sounds frankly ridiculous for an individual team member, but I’ve seen it before. Not only does this not fulfil the SMART criteria above, it’s not motivational or inspiring because an individual wouldn’t know where to start, and they certainly will struggle to measure it.
If you’re faced with this situation, it’s important to try to translate the goals to suit your team. Having a higher level goal like this is fine, but only if you can make it more specific for your people.
This might mean breaking it down to a very specific initiative to be achieved within a certain timeframe, and linking that to the higher-level goal.
I once led a technology program where the organisation forced us to participate in the regular corporate goal setting process.
The problem was that as contractors, our whole purpose was to deliver the program we were working on. This meant that the goal-setting process was simply administrative, with no benefit to the team members involved.
This led to us spending very little time on it, and distracted us from our actual objective which was to deliver the program.
Link Success of the Goal to an Outcome
Too often, I see people achieve their goals and see little reward.
“Congratulations, you get the same pay rise as everyone else this year.” (or nothing at all!)
This is a good way to destroy any sort of enthusiasm for goal setting, and to turn the whole activity into a box ticking exercise. Even if you can’t hand out pay increases as you’d like, see if you can come up with some other options.
Could you perhaps send someone on a training course or conference as a reward? What about providing them with a few extra leave days or some other perk like the opportunity to take on a new side-project that interests them?
I don’t have all the answers here, but you need to get creative if you’re going to make the goals matter. Otherwise, you might as well admit that the process is largely pointless.
#2: Include Skill Development Goals
In Dan Pink’s book “Drive”, one of the key motivational factors he discovered is the concept of Mastery.
That is, learning new skills that matter to us, and getting really good at them. That’s why it’s important to incorporate development goals into your planning, so that you can harness this motivational potential in your team members.
Learning new skills can also be linked to completion of side-projects that help to improve the team. In this way, you’re helping people strive to improve themselves, while contributing to the success of the team.
Too often I see development goals sitting separate from the work of the team. For example, somebody might have a developmental goal to gain a Project Management certification, with no link to how that certification will help the team.
If you can link the skill development with the improvement of the team, you can achieve multiple purposes at once.
#3: When Setting Team Goals, Keep Them Current
Another challenge with traditional corporate goal setting lies in the length of the performance year. We set annual goals at the start of the year, priorities change, and by the time we review the goals, they may no longer be relevant or achievable.
It’s important to be able to be flexible enough for the goals to remain current. Otherwise, they lose their motivational potential.
Be sure to review team member goals frequently, and make sure they’re still relevant. If not, see if you can work with the team to update them.
If you’re in the situation where your organisational goals are “cascaded down” and fixed for the year, I’d even recommend coming up with your own set of team goals that you can update when you need to.
This way you aren’t restricted by the bureaucracy of your organisation and you can update your team goals if there are major priority shifts within the regular performance year.
#4: Link Your Team and Individual Goals to the Organisational Purpose
Earlier in the post, I mentioned that it can be beneficial to link individual, team and organisational goals together.
This is important for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, it helps to align the work of our people and teams. If your people are working on something that has no link to the goals of the team, then why are they working on it? If your team is working towards a goal that can’t be linked to an organisational goal, why is the team focusing on it?
Second, it can be motivational for our people, through providing “task significance”. That is, people can clearly see the link between the work they are doing to the purpose of the organisation, and can observe its impact on others around them.
It’s better when our people are working in alignment with our organisation… because otherwise they’d probably be better off working somewhere else!
Learn More: Want a Committed Team? Check These Factors.
#5: When Setting Team Goals, Involve Your Team Members
Last, but certainly not least – it’s important to involve your team members in the goal setting process.
This goes both for the goals of the team itself, and the individuals within it.
It’s hard for people to commit to the team when they have no say in what the team is trying to achieve. When the goals are simply handed down without consultation, people may feel demoralised at having no opportunity to help to shape the direction of the team.
At an individual level, it can be even worse. If you tell an individual that they must achieve a target with zero consultation, there is a chance that they may attempt to avoid accountability for that target, because they never had a chance to discuss or agree to it.
Of course, there are always situations where goals may be fixed. For example, you may have targets regarding compliance or safety that have very little wriggle-room.
However, where you can, I’d suggest discussing and agreeing goals at an individual and team level with the people involved in working towards them.
Learn More: The Power of Setting a Direction For Your Team.
Setting Team Goals Can Motivate Your Team
When done well, setting team goals can have a powerful motivating effect. When done badly, it can have the opposite consequences!
The way in which you set goals will differ between organisations, but hopefully you can find the right way to help your team stay aligned and feel good about the direction they’re heading in.
What’s your experience with setting team goals (and individual goals)? Let me and all the other thoughtful leaders know in the comments?