The complex challenges companies face in an uncertain, fast-changing world have taught them that teamwork is the best way to succeed. But teamwork alone isn’t enough; self-organization and diversity within a team are keys to dealing with complexity and uncertainty. Setting the right team goals is fundamental to supporting self-organization. It also plays the leading role in aligning the team’s work with the overall company goals and vision. The modern leader is responsible for creating an environment where goals are motivating and inspiring, and for fostering growth and engagement within the team.
Most companies already have annual goals, and some break them down into quarterly goals. Many set annual goals for employees, as well. The question of whether we really need any more goals, like team goals, seems to be justified. But setting team goals isn’t about adding more goals—it’s about making the big, company goals into something meaningful and actionable for teams and individuals. In 2019, a Gartner survey found that only forty-seven percent of employees believed they understood the broader goals of their organization and how their daily work contributed to organizational success.
Team goals help bridge the massive gap between company and individual goals. They clarify the team’s contribution and importance to the company goals, fostering motivation and a sense of inclusion. Team goals can also offer increased transparency, accountability, and innovation because everyone knows what they’re working toward and why their work is important.
By setting the right team goals, the team won’t just be more likely to deliver the desired outcome—they’ll also be encouraged to grow with the company, improve their processes, and collaborate more, which will have a positive impact on everyone’s performance.
But Who’s the Leader?
The answer to this question is easy: it depends on the organizational structure and hierarchy, as well as the team’s structure and experience. In many cases, the leader will be the manager or the team lead, but can also be a team member who feels goals are important to the team’s success.
A team needs strong leadership to realize the full benefits of team goals, as well as to help them meet those goals. However, it is important to understand that setting team goals requires tact and sensitivity. Setting the goals too low can make team members feel undervalued, but setting goals too high can make them feel inadequate. Both outcomes can result in a demotivated, disengaged team.
It’s also important for the leader not to get tunnel vision, focusing on the goals at the expense of their team. The team’s focus should be on their goals, but the leader’s focus should be on supporting and directing the team, enabling them to reach those goals.
First Things First
Having team goals and individual goals only makes sense when these are aligned with the company’s overall strategy and goals. Before you can set team goals, you need to know what the company’s goals are. After that, team goals can be defined, and finally, goals for individuals on that team can be established. This ensures that all the goals are aligned and that they collectively support the next overall objective.
From Long-Term to Short-Term
Your long-term goals should be closely tied to the company’s vision. But to translate these goals into something actionable for your team, it’s often more useful to break them down into short-term goals—ones that can be realized within a few months. You may want to break these down even further into monthly, or even weekly, goals. A short feedback loop strengthens the team, making them more agile and responsive to any problems that may arise.
Making Team Goals SMARTER
If you take the lead, you have to know how to set reasonable goals. One excellent framework for this is the SMART goal-setting system:
Set goals that are concrete and well defined. For example, “We want to increase our online shop traffic by ten percent during the next two months.” The goal is to increase shop traffic.
Define goals where you can measure progress and success constantly. It’s crucial that the team either measures itself or has access to metrics. Short feedback cycles make it easier for the team to reflect on what is or isn’t working and adapt as needed. For example, “We want to increase our online shop traffic by ten percent during the next two months.” The metric is that traffic should be up ten percent.
Your goals should be ambitious, but not unrealistic. Beware of setting goals that are too easy to achieve. Too little pressure is just as demotivating as too much. What exactly “achievable” or “too low” means will vary from team to team, and depends on the team’s ability, resources, and time.
Set goals that complement and are aligned with the larger company goals and strategy. For example, if your company sells products online, then increasing traffic to the site is good for the visibility of your products.
Set goals that have deadlines—but be sure to be realistic about them. Working in a constant state of crunch is unsustainable, and will lead to burnout and disengagement. Breaking goals down into smaller ones can allow for shorter timelines and faster feedback. For example, “We want to increase our online shop traffic by ten percent in the next two months” offers a time frame. Your team knows that the objective is to have this accomplished fairly soon, not at some nebulous, unstated future time.
By adding “ER,” you will have SMARTER goals . The E stands for regular evaluation of results and achievements. This review helps teams and individuals understand what factors helped them meet their goal—or caused them to miss it. The evaluation provides a path for continuous improvement. The R represents the recognition (or reward ). Giving credit and showing appreciation to the team for achievements are crucial for motivation. Be cautious, however, when using rewards as a motivational technique. If you want to foster teamwork and collaboration, it is better to lean toward rewards for the group rather than rewards for individuals.
Adding Value with Meaningful Team Goals
Goals usually answer the questions of what, when, and how, but they rarely include the why . As a leader, you should provide context for each goal, and why you’ve chosen that goal is an excellent way to give helpful and needed context. This context can help team members better understand the objective behind the goal and guide their decisions. Stating “We want to increase our online shop traffic by ten percent during the next two months to increase customer awareness ” is helpful. This clarifies that while increased sales might be a nice side effect, the goal of having more traffic isn’t about that. Including the why in your goals is also a useful guide when evaluating the results.
Making team goals meaningful isn’t a one-person show; it’s a group project. As a leader, you can set team goals and hand them over to the team, but you could also collaborate with the team and involve them in the goal-setting process. If the team contributes and feels heard and respected, they will be more likely to fully engage with the goals you set. Especially if you want to set ambitious goals, the team’s ownership is critical for success.
Spend time discussing the goals and making sure everyone understands them. Take a page from pre-mortem analysis and spend a little extra time talking as a team about potential points of failure or friction en route to your goals. Recognizing these risks as early as possible allows you to plan for how to mitigate them if they arise. Similarly, if the team fails to meet goals, a post-mortem review will help you understand what didn’t work and what you can learn from this failure.
Visualizing goals is a simple but valuable method for keeping your team’s goals at the forefront of everyone’s mind. The team may decide to use a digital tool or a whiteboard in the office for this purpose. But don’t just make the goals visible—make your progress visible, too. These visuals make great points of entry for one-on-ones and weekly follow-ups on the team’s progress. As is always the case with collaboration, communication is vital. Stay connected to your team, and really listen to them, as they have valuable information that will help you identify pitfalls, shortcomings, and obstacles early. You, as the leader, can then offer help and expertise to guide them toward a solution.
Team goals are the missing link between company and individual goals, and enable a group of individuals to work together as a unified team. Used correctly, team goals can be motivational, provide insight about where your processes are excelling (or where they could use a little work), foster collaboration and innovation, and ensure that everyone’s work matters in the big picture. Team goals are a leader’s key to unlocking the full potential of your team.
Sabine Wojcieszak is the enthusiastic Agile and DevOps Enabler at getnext IT, a German based consultancy. As a coach Sabine helps technical teams and leaders to communicate and collaborate in a better and more effective way. She is a lecturer at university, writes articles, and speaks frequently about soft skill topics at international tech conferences.