Struggling to find and set the right goals for your team? Read on as we explore what team goals are and what strategies you can leverage for effective team goal setting (with real-world examples).
Tips, strategies, and workplace examples of effective team goal-setting
Setting effective team goals sounds simple enough. After all, we set goals for ourselves every day. Whether you’re writing down a to-do list or trying to accomplish something a little more long-term, setting a goal just means stating what you want to get done. So why can’t you just do this for your entire team?
Because, unlike an individual, teams don’t exist in isolation. They are instead composed of unique members who all have their own motivations, interests, and skills, making them much more multifaceted and complex. Not only that, but teams are also distinct components of the larger company, which means their goals must ladder up to larger, broader interests.
All this can make it challenging to define and execute successful team goals—but not impossible. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll give you strategies for creating goals that motivate your team, encourage collaboration, push each employee forward, and help increase their productivity and performance.
Team goals are the milestones, accomplishments, and outcomes that a group of individuals collectively strives to achieve. In contrast with individual goals, which focus on personal development, team goals help align and direct the efforts of the team as a whole toward a common purpose, ensuring each member is working together effectively. Typically, these goals will support the larger objectives of the organization or company.
Whether big or small, team goals can help put everyday tasks into a larger context, helping build a sense of cohesion and collaboration between employees. They also give your team a way to measure progress, recognize successes, and learn from failures. These goals could be as ambitious as increasing sales by a certain percentage or launching a new product within a specific timeframe or as modest as ensuring every team member completes a technical training session on time.
The significance of setting team goals
Team goals are an essential part of leading your team to success—as long as they are clear, effective, and realistic. By aligning your team around a shared set of goals, you can accomplish the following:
Drive employee engagement: When everyone on the team understands what they’re working toward, as well as why, they’ll be much more likely to collaborate and help each other out. This shared sense of purpose will promote camaraderie, which will keep everyone more motivated and engaged.
Facilitate strategy execution: Without a common goal to work toward, everyone is likely to have their own opinions about the best way to do their job. This will make it challenging to carry out any kind of strategic initiative. But when a team goal is in place, adhering to a strategy and executing it together will become essential to achieving that goal.
Improve business performance: Team goals not only get everyone working together, but also give them a way to measure their progress and look for ways to improve their efficiency and productivity. They may discover ways to achieve certain goals even faster, or find flaws in previous team strategies. All this will help improve how business is done.
Distinguishing between team and individual goals
While team and individual goals are different—the former focuses on collective achievement while the latter is centered on personal development—they are also closely related. In fact, they can help support each other in important ways.
For instance, team goals can give each team member a chance to showcase their unique strengths and talents, as well as push them toward improving their own skills. To use an earlier example, if the goal is to increase sales, then this might motivate some employees to look for ways to hone the way they reach out to prospects and make their pitches.
Likewise, by setting individual goals to achieve themselves, team members can help their team reach its larger goals faster and more effectively. By learning how to use a new piece of productivity management software, for instance, an employee could become better at recognizing inefficiencies, enabling their team to achieve more significant, ambitious goals than they could before.
So while it’s important to recognize the differences between team and individual goals, it’s also vital to understand how the two coexist. Focus on one, and you’ll inevitably impact the other.
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Steps for setting effective team goals
Setting successful team goals requires you to think critically about what exactly you’re trying to achieve. That means understanding the full context of the goal, having a process in place for achieving it, and remaining flexible as your team or organization grows or changes.
Here are a few steps you can follow to create goals that keep your team motivated, focused, and aligned:
Understand the big picture: Before doing anything, ensure you have a clear understanding of your organization’s mission and overall strategic objectives—both short- and long-term. Your team’s goals should directly contribute to these higher-level goals.
Ensure buy-in through collaboration: By working closely alongside each of your team members to both develop your goals and the strategies for executing them, you will promote ownership and make them more committed to achieving them.
Set SMART goals: The SMART system can help make your goals more Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. In turn, this will make them easier to understand and give your team a clearer sense of direction.
Tie goals to incentives. You can motivate team members by tying their performance to incentives. Just remember to make them appropriate to the work. While a little competition can be good, you’ll need to ensure that the incentives are not overshadowing larger goals.
Set timelines for achieving goals: Creating deadlines for meeting your goals will give your team a sense of urgency. Just remember to check in with your larger team to ensure any timelines you make are realistic.
Track your progress: Set up a system for tracking progress, then make it visible to the team. This could include regular check-ins, progress reports, or software tools that help visualize progress toward goals.
Regularly review your goals: Circumstances change, market conditions fluctuate, and challenges arise. All of this means you should be regularly reviewing and adjusting your goals so that they remain both effective and relevant.
Assessing the goal-setting needs of your workplace team
As you start thinking about your team’s goals, your first step should be to understand what is most important for your team to achieve.
Begin this process by considering your company’s larger mission or objectives. What are the overarching priorities that guide your company and how do they affect the expectation of your team? If need be, conduct a preliminary interview with a manager or executive to ensure your team is properly aligned with company goals. This will give you a good roadmap.
Next, identify the areas where you think your team can make the greatest impact. For example, if your team is composed of salespeople, then you may not want to focus on goals related to customer outreach and services as opposed to product development. This will not only speak to your team’s strengths but also ensure your goals are more likely to motivate your team.
Finally, determine some key performance indicators (KPIs) that your team will be responsible for. These should be quantifiable, such as sales made or revenue generated, so that there is no ambiguity or confusion about your progress. Don’t forget to come up with contingency plans for when these KPIs fall short and to recognize when your team meets or exceeds their goals.
Identifying challenges and opportunities
As in any endeavor worth doing, you’re bound to encounter certain challenges as you set team goals. The trick is knowing how to turn these challenges into opportunities. Here are a few common obstacles you may run into, as well as tips to transform them into something positive.
Lack of alignment: It can be hard to ensure that the goals you come up with fully align with those of the larger organization. However, by carefully taking into account any wider objectives and considering how your team can contribute, you can come up with goals that help keep your team focused on what really matters.
Ambiguity: Goals that aren’t clear or well-defined can quickly lead to confusion and frustration among team members. In contrast, coming up with well-crafted goals will help inspire team members and give them a sense of motivation and purpose.
Competition: It’s common for individual team members to want to prioritize their own goals over the team’s. But when you are able to build your team goals around a shared sense of purpose, as well as tie them to incentives and personal growth, you can instead turn this competition into fruitful collaboration.
Resistance to change: If it’s hard to see the value of team goals, individuals may not be open to any changes or disruptions they entail. But by making the value clear, as well as helping team members develop new skills and capabilities in response, you can turn team goals into an opportunity for growth.
Inadequate communication: If you’re unable to adequately communicate each goal to your team members, then the result will likely be misunderstandings and misalignment. However, by using goal setting as a framework for improving communication, you can facilitate better lines of feedback across your team.
Evaluating employee strengths and potential
Setting effective and impactful team goals should be part of a larger performance management and evaluation process. After all, in order to meet any team goals you set, you’ll need to make sure your employees are set up for success. That means knowing how to properly evaluate their strengths and potential.
You should start out this process by collecting any relevant information you have on your employees. This could include previous performance evaluations, self-assessments, and feedback from peers. Once this baseline is established, assess each employee’s skills (whether soft skills or technical ones) against their job role and its expectations. Are they proficient in their job’s tools? Do they know how to solve problems and communicate with their colleagues effectively?
As you conduct this evaluation, divide your observations into three buckets: strengths, potential, and areas for improvement. Strengths, obviously, are any areas where they clearly excel. They are not only meeting expectations but are positively contributing to team performance. Potential recognizes an employee’s ability to learn and take on new challenges, as well as adapt to changes. Growth areas refer to any places where an employee can further improve or develop their skills.
Doing this process, both before setting goals and during their implementation, will enable you to set more realistic objectives that align with the skills and capabilities of your team. And when you know how to do that, all of you are more likely to succeed.
Use the SMART system
When it comes to actually putting your team goals down into writing, the SMART system can help you ensure each objective fits the criteria for success. Simply align all your goals with its five attributes:
Specific: You should clearly define the outcome you want to achieve.
Measurable: There should be a quantitative metric for assessing the goal’s progress and determining its success.
Achievable: The goal should be realistic, given your team’s capabilities.
Turning team goals into action: Helping your team meet its goals
You’ve understood your company’s larger objectives, evaluated your team members’ strengths and potential, and familiarized yourself with the SMART system for setting goals. Now it’s time to start thinking about how you can transform any goals you set from mere aspirations to actions. Here are some tips for helping your team meet its goals.
Set goals at the team level.
It may seem obvious, but it’s worth saying regardless: You need to ensure that the goals you set involve every member of your team. This means that they aren’t goals meant just for managers or team leaders. And neither should they be designed just for entry-level employees. Instead, every person on a team should have a role to play in fulfilling and achieving the goal.
A great way to do this is by involving your entire team in the goal-setting process. After ensuring everyone is aligned with the organization’s higher-level mission and values, ask them how they think the team could best improve company performance. Make sure to single out voices you may not hear from as often, such as newer team members. The process of doing this will help get you greater buy-in and ensure everyone is committed to the goal.
Let employees develop their own goals.
Personal goals, as we previously detailed above, are intertwined with team goals, so it makes sense to encourage employees to set their own objectives as long as they align with those of the larger team.
For instance, after setting down team goals and making sure everyone understands their responsibilities, tell team members to make a list of key initiatives or milestones that would signal success for them. Provide support by helping them craft specific, meaningful goals that are also measurable and achievable. And don’t forget to encourage them along the way. All this will help empower employees by giving them more agency in their own success.
Set realistic deadlines.
Nothing is quite as effective as a deadline to ensure a job gets done or a goal is achieved. Without deadlines, it’s easier for team members to prioritize their own personal needs or objectives. They may not even take the team goal that seriously. But when there’s a strict timeline for achievement, you create accountability.
When setting a deadline, first ensure that it is realistic. If you plan an ambitious goal and then only give your team a few days or weeks to achieve it, you’ll only set yourself up for failure. Remember to also set clear consequences for missing the deadline. This could be the loss of incentives or even mandatory employee evaluations. The purpose should be to provide employees with enough motivation to do whatever it takes to achieve the goal collectively.
Learn from your mistakes.
Mistakes can be frustrating, especially when they mean missed opportunities. But they can also be incredibly valuable. By knowing how to properly assess your mistakes and learn from them, you can help refine your process and do better the next time around.
This is especially important to remember when it comes to setting and implementing team goals. While you and your team may have gotten most of it right—you evaluated the goal within the context of the company mission, you took into account everyone’s particular strengths, etc.—there’s still a lot that can go wrong. Perhaps the goal was too ambitious, or the timeline was off. Turning this mistake from a disappointment into an opportunity to learn will strengthen your team for inevitable future failures, while also helping them improve.
Make goals measurable.
By making your team goals measurable, you give them meaning they would not otherwise have. That’s because, without a quantifiable way to track progress or determine success, no one will be able to say whether or not a goal has been achieved, which can lead to either confusion or apathy. But when there are specific and objective metrics in place, everyone will be on the same page with regard to the goal’s failure or success.
So how do you make a team goal measurable? The answer goes back to the first attribute in the SMART system: specificity. For example, instead of setting your goal to increase sales, describe exactly how much you want to increase sales, and in how short a timespan. This will give you a clear way to measure whether or not you are on track.
Follow up often.
Frequent and regular check-ins are important for ensuring your team stays on track while working toward their goals. These can take many forms, from informal chats to more systemized status updates in which everyone shares their progress. Regardless, their purpose should be to identify any roadblocks or challenges that may be standing in the way, as well as give team members a chance to ask for and receive support. They can also be a great opportunity to celebrate the team’s successes.
Crucially, regular follow-ups will also show that team leaders and anyone else in charge are just as committed to the team goals as anyone else. They care about how work is going and want to provide help whenever possible. This will promote camaraderie and help motivate the broader team to achieve its goals.
Deadlines, a sense of accountability, and team cohesion can all be great motivating factors—but don’t forget about the power of incentives as well. When tailored toward the specific needs and dynamics of your team, the right rewards can be an effective way to push both individual employees and the team as a whole toward achieving their goals.
Incentives come in many forms. For instance, you could offer a certain amount of compensation (i.e., a bonus) for achieving a goal on time. Or you could offer perks, such as extra time off, a company-sponsored party, or even a vacation. However, one of the most impactful and cost-effective rewards you can offer is often just simple recognition. Single out employees for their achievements and you’ll likely see others motivated by their example.
A team without a strong sense of direction or purpose will have a hard time cohering—and may even eventually disband. But with strong team goals in place, your team will have something to work toward together. In turn, this will give them an incentive to increase their productivity, which will keep them engaged and even help improve retention long-term.
The benefits of effective team goals are many—from improved efficiency to happier teammates. Let’s take a closer look at some of these below.
Strengthened team collaboration
One of the main effects of a good team goal is that it ensures everyone shares the same priorities. Although everyone is likely to have their own projects and responsibilities, the presence of a larger team goal forces the team to share resources and consider the bigger picture instead. In other words, it makes the team better at collaboration.
This is a central way team goals improve teamwork. But it also produces secondary benefits. For instance, in order to work together effectively, employees must be good at talking with one another. This is why team goals often lead to enhanced communication. Likewise, successfully carrying out of team goals is a great way of bringing people together. There’s nothing like a shared win to foster stronger bonds among team members.
Setting a team goal means everyone is responsible for its success—or its failure. That puts pressure on individual employees to not only carry out their own tasks and responsibilities but to also ensure their work is benefiting the team and its goals. It makes everyone more accountable.
With a strong sense of accountability, team members are more likely to look for ways they can improve their productivity. This is especially true when goals are developed using the SMART system. That means team members will have firm metrics they can use to measure their progress, as well as a timeline to follow, making proper time management a clear priority.
Enhanced mentoring opportunities
Good team goals should be aspirational, which means they will push everyone to improve their performance and skills. This may be difficult for some people. But when carried out correctly, this can create valuable opportunities for more experienced employees to teach others on their team.
The key is to make the team goals as clear and meaningful as possible. Employees should know exactly what it will take to achieve them, including the necessary skills or knowledge they will need. This will make it easier for employees with those skills to share them with others. As these goals are carried out, the effect will be a more skilled and knowledgeable team.
Improved work performance
Team goals that take into account the larger objectives of the company, take advantage of the strengths and potential of the team, and remain both clear and realistic, will inevitably help increase the performance of the company. That’s because they are helping the organization fulfill a strategic need.
However, the simple act of setting team goals—even before they are achieved—can also help improve work performance. As long as you are approaching this as a collaborative process that involves everyone, you’ll be able to get everyone focused on a singular goal, as well as the challenges the goal is meant to address. That by itself can be enough to reduce competition, increase collaboration, and enhance the performance of the team.
Increased motivation and commitment
Setting team goals is an effective way to create a more motivated and committed team. Just as the added sense of accountability described above helps motivate team members, the way you set team goals helps contextualize team efforts within the wider organization. The team isn’t just working in its own silo; it is making valuable contributions to the bottom line.
On top of this, the shared sense of commitment creates numerous opportunities for managers and team leaders to call out individuals for their contributions. Everyone can see how everyone else is working toward their goal, making it easy for others to recognize significant achievements and call out specific work. And getting recognition from your own team members may be one of the most effective forms of motivation there is.
While team goals will typically be specific to your particular team or organization, the following are some examples you can adapt for your own unique circumstances.
Streamline communication: Communication across different departments can often be a challenge. By setting this goal, you can focus on creating new communication protocols, setting up more effective meetings, and increasing the use of effective collaboration tools.
Increase sales revenue: Depending on the industry and the team’s unique circumstances and priorities, this goal can be adapted to focus on other key performance indicators (KPIs) like customer acquisition, customer retention, or average transaction value.
Enhance product quality: In this goal, product quality can refer to many different aspects. For example, you may want to focus on reducing defects or bugs, improving user satisfaction, or optimizing production processes.
Introduce new product lines: Similar to product quality, this goal could also be adapted for many uses. For instance, a service-oriented company may want to focus on expanding offerings or enhancing the customer experience through personalized solutions.
Strengthen employee well-being: Although this goal may sound abstract, there are many concrete ways to potentially address it, such as by providing more mental health resources or considering new ways to improve work-life balance. Employee net promoter score (NPS) can be a good metric to track this goal’s progress.