Team Goals Matter More Than You May Think
Team Goals Matter More Than You May Think

Goals aren’t only a standard for success — they are a motivational tool. Having clear, specific goals gives people something to strive for, and research has shown that this increases performance. However, there is a right way to set goals. If goals are not set correctly, they could be useless or even detrimental. Team goals can be especially complicated, but if you use the guidelines below, you can set goals that will motivate your team and increase performance.

1. Goals need to be SMART

Everyone has probably heard of S.M.A.R.T. goals. We know that as individuals, our goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. These criteria all hold for team goals as well. The first aspect, specificity, is almost a universal truth. A specific goal is more effective than a vague goal. Two other aspects of smart goals, time-based and measurable, build on the idea of specificity. A specific time frame is needed for people to focus their effort to meet deadlines, and goals that aren’t measurable (or quantifiable) are never specific enough.

Measurement and time frame are interrelated. If you have realized that you aren’t working fast enough to meet a deadline, then you will be motivated to work harder as the deadline closes in. However, if you can’t quantify your performance, then you won’t know how close you are to meeting your goal, which means an approaching deadline would be more confusing or stressful than motivating.

Specific goals are so effective because they help people focus their attention. So, while it should almost go without saying, goals need to be relevant to larger organizational objectives or people will spend their time focused on frivolous activities. Finally, goals that are not attainable can actually be demotivating.

Imagine how you would react if your boss asked you to do something like write a full report in an hour, increase sales by 500% this quarter, or push a newly designed product into production by the end of the week. Many would probably just give up and maybe even work less diligently than usual, because they know that any amount of effort will ultimately lead to failure. On the other hand, a goal shouldn’t be too easy either…

2. Goals should be difficult

This should be apparent if we just take a step back and think about what a goal actually is — a goal is a desired end state, or object of a person’s effort. It is where you want to finish. So, if a goal is too easy, you will finish quickly and then stop working. For example, if you have a sales goal and meet it before the deadline, you no longer have any incentive to work hard, unless there is another goal. Just keep in mind that the goals should not be so difficult that they are unattainable.

3. Team goals + individual goals = ?

Specificity and difficulty are not unique for teams. Any individual who wants to perform better should set specific, difficult learning or performance goals. However, in today’s fast-paced business world, much work is done in teams, and teams are more than just the sum of their partsTeams are interdependent and require cooperation in order to perform well, and individual goals can sometimes undermine cooperation. Individual goals that are “egocentric,” or goals that focus on maximizing individual performance, conflict with overarching team goals and lead to both lower team and individual performance!

Team members with egocentric, individual goals focus on competing with their teammates rather than cooperating to meet their larger objectives. Members of teams should focus on creating individual goals that focus explicitly on how each individual is contributing to the team’s goal, also known as “groupcentric” goals. Research has shown that the combination of groupcentric individual goals and team goals lead to more cooperation and increased team performance.

4. Give feedback

How do you know if you have reached your goal or if you are on track to meet your goal by the deadline? Feedback. Tell people how they are doing so that they know whether they need to increase their effort or continue what they are doing. Feedback should be constructive and timely. Berating people can be demotivating, and waiting for a structured yearly evaluation to give people feedback is uninformative. Continuous, informal feedback as part of the everyday work environment lets people know how they are doing now, so that they are better equipped to meet their goals.

Again, when considering teams, you need to choose an appropriate way to give feedback. Giving feedback to individual members can stimulate competitive strategies and hurt team performance. Feedback should be given to the team as a whole, so that the interdependent unit remains aware of its progress. If individual feedback is given, then it should be very clearly groupcentric, or showing each individual how well they are contributing to the team goal.

Go make your team better!

Goal setting is an effective and relatively easily implemented strategy that can provide clarity, increase motivation, and improve performance. S.M.A.R.T. goals are common for individuals, but setting effective goals in teams is a little more complicated. If you simply take the time to focus goals on the team and give appropriate feedback, then team goal setting can help your team be more motivated and productive.