Team goals guide us. They help us prioritize our efforts, drive us forward in a unified way and make it clear when we’re successful.
But the job of getting these targets in the right place can be the difference between creating a meaningful challenge and creating an impossible hurdle that demotivates (or worse, motivates the wrong type of behavior—think 3.5 million fake Wells Fargo accounts.)
You may personally have experience with a goal that’s been set too high—sales goals, customer satisfaction targets, efficiency, retention, results. If you’ve had this experience, you know how demotivating it can be knowing right out of the gate that you can’t get there, and that no one will be happy with your results (e.g., the sales rep whose new project comes with hidden obstacles and unexpected competitors, the customer service professional who handles packs of customers mad because of your outside vendor’s shortcomings). Your best effort begins to seem almost pointless and because you’re consistently over-stretched, failure becomes the norm.
Conversely, a target that’s too low leaves you unchallenged. Low expectations can become a self-fulfilling prophecy (also known as the Pygmalion effect), i.e., we get the outcomes we expect.
Consider these suggestions for setting, aligning, tracking and reaching team goals:
To set the right team goal, first consider whether you need a goal based on results (production volume, services sold) or based on action or behavior (reduce average online customer wait time to 30 minutes). As mentioned earlier, research tells us that this figure should provide a reasonable stretch, rather than an easy target.
Use your organization’s goals to help you define the specific team goals. Be sure to include team members in early discussion to settle on the exact number. Once you agree, get each person’s commitment. (Don’t mistake silence for agreement.) And remember, goals do not need to be rigid. With ongoing input (We’ll get to that next.) from your team, you may need to make adjustments based on unanticipated factors.
Goal alignment means that employees understand the connection between their goals and the organization’s goals, i.e., how their work plays into the big picture, suggests Michele Markey, VP Training Operations at SkillPath. For example, show the sales team that the organization’s 10 percent growth target depends on a 5 percent increase in sales. If a customer service team is responsible for responding to every online customer inquiry within 30 minutes, make it clear how this is tied to the bigger company target of increased customer retention. Also help make them aware of other efforts and teams responsible for portions of this same organizational goal.
Getting buy-in from the team begins in the goal-setting stage. When the team has an opportunity to weigh in and be heard, they begin to feel ownership of these targets.
It’s also important that your team trust you (and each other). Help build this trust by keeping your own commitments to them and by inviting discussion and input early on. Giving team members specific decision-making authority is another good way to encourage a sense of ownership (as well as helping employees grow).
Ensuring your team hits its goals usually means breaking big goals down into smaller pieces to create milestones and a timeline. Be sure each person understands and agrees to his or her part (and knows what other team members are responsible for) in achieving these smaller incremental goals.
Build in regular progress meetings to help identify problems or obstacles early so you can shift course if necessary. Also allow for setbacks and mistakes, but encourage teams who miss the mark to troubleshoot and try again.
You need your team to work together. Help them unite and feel proud by talking about the talents of each individual and how they contribute to the team. Celebrate incremental accomplishments both individually and as a team. Also, talk about what strong team communication looks like so each individual is keeping the others in the loop, suggests talentgear.com. And finally, if there are tough decisions (or specific underperforming individuals) that put team members at odds, handle these yourself.
Help work teams soar by setting the bar within reach—achievable, but challenging. From the careful thought and negotiation required on the front end to set these goals to the ways you encourage trust, team pride and progress, ensure your target-setting leads your team to success.