Team Goal-Setting: How to Set Intentions as a Team That Will Last

It’s the start of 2023, which means it might be time for some team goal-setting. But how should you go about this in the right way? We break down the important things your team should be aware of when creating new goals, for the new year and for the future beyond.  

Since it’s the beginning of a new year, many teams are looking to set new goals and make new plans to achieve success in 2023. But an overlooked aspect in all of this is how best to come up with goals in the first place. It’s not as easy as it looks. And that should come as no surprise to anyone who has tried to make goals for themselves.

As a team, there are more opinions and variables to worry about. There may also be an uneven willingness to accomplish those goals (often called “buy-in”), or a lack of a clear path for the team to follow. Finally, as an individual, you know where the responsibility lies if you fail to reach a goal. On a team, though, that responsibility and accountability is more spread out and diffuse. 

However, even given all that, team goal-setting has the potential to be much more effective than individual goal-setting. Why? Because you’re working with other people and supporting each other. That means your ability to set goals that are achievable is far greater. But of course, there’s a lot of work that comes before that. 

So in this blog post we’ll discuss why team goal-setting can be so effective, what they need in order to make it so,, and steps you and your team can take to make their goal-setting process easier and more productive.

Why team goal-setting is so effective: the power of teams

As we mentioned, teams are effective at goal-setting because there is power in teams. Your team can help make and accomplish goals through motivating and supporting each other, holding each other accountable, and  sharing ideas and resources. 

This gets to the essence of why teams are so powerful in general – with more people, you are able to do more things. Period. Making goals and accomplishing them becomes much easier when you are supported by a team, and when you combine your own individual goals with the goals of the rest of the team. 

It’s not just accomplishing goals but the act of making them itself that is also easier as a team. There are more ideas floating around, and there are more people there to incorporate into the strategies of how to proceed. 

But there’s a different energy, too. I think we don’t often acknowledge how lonely it is to make goals on your own. There’s a lot of stress, and you often get stuck in your own mind, overthinking things or eroding your own self-confidence. This is why many psychologists advise voicing your goals out loud to other people, and seeking advice and help when you get too overwhelmed.

On a team though, you naturally have a community there that can listen to each other and share feelings about things going. It turns a lonely process into a communal one – which makes it easier to engage in, and the act of accomplishing those goals much more effective.

However, in order to really take advantage of the inherent benefits of teams when it comes to goal-setting, three things need to be established within the team environment, and present during the team goal-setting process…

The 3 pillars of team goal-setting

1) Trust

Trust is the core foundation of so much in team building, and here is no different. 

Team members need to be able to trust in each other in order to make goals and envision the future. They need to trust that they will get support when they need it, that team members will listen to their ideas and feelings without fear of getting mocked or harassed, and that they can openly share their personal visions and goals in order to harmonize them with the rest of the team. 

2) Team Unity

Another major prerequisite of effective team goal-setting is having a strong sense of team unity. The reasons why should be obvious: in order to set goals as a team you need to have a common vision and a common motivating force. Team unity has strong implications for other parts of team goal-setting as well, such as ensuring that everyone can give their input, and when it comes to being able to distribute roles in the goal-achieving process equally. 

3) Collaboration  

Finally, an environment of collaboration is also important when it comes to team goal setting. Collaboration enables teams to not only share ideas but also to build on them creatively. Collaboration also involves improvisation and openness to all members and their ideas. Which means that collaborative teams are also more able to adapt goals and roles to changing circumstances, and to delineate work in an equitable and inclusive way.

Foundations of team goal-setting: SMART goals and Locke’s Goal-Setting Theory 

Now that we’ve discussed some of the basis for why it can often be more effective to set goals as a team, this is as good a time as any to talk about some of the foundational ideas relating to team goal-setting: the SMART goal system, and Locke’s Goal-Setting Theory.

Both of these team goal-setting frameworks are used widely throughout the team-building world, and have profoundly influenced the way many teams conceive of goals and how to make them. 

1. SMART goals

SMART goals is a way of thinking about and setting goals that you can actually accomplish. SMART is an acronym that stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based

  • Specific: Make goals as focused and narrow as possible, based on specific actions.. Broader or vaguer goals will be harder to achieve.
  • Measurable: Make sure your goals are quantifiable (x% growth, x number of new clients, etc.) so that you can accurately determine how far you’ve gone on your way to achieving your goal.
  • Achievable: Ensure that your goals can be accomplished by your team, even if it may be challenging to do so. Use this as an opportunity to be humble and honest. Know what you can and can’t do within reason, and what you might need to put into your longer-term goals.
  • Relevant: Set goals that align with your long-term plans, vision, or morals. Don’t choose a goal just because you feel like “you should” do it, or because everyone else is. Make sure that your goals mean something to you.
  • Time-based: Give your or team a deadline to achieve these goals, and hold yourselves to it. Deadlines will help motivate and focus your team to achieve the goal.

As you can see, the SMART goal framework can be used by teams or individuals. Also, we should note that SMART is clearly geared towards short to mid-term goals, ones that have conceivable deadlines and more immediate actions to be taken. Longer-term goals or visions require different ways of thinking as a team, and should probably be done before working on SMART goals.

2. Locke’s Goal-Setting Theory

Dr. Edwin Locke formulated a theory relating to goal-setting in the 1950s in his paper “Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives“.  His work is seminal, and makes up part of the basis of the SMART system (making quantifiable, specific goals is more motivating). However, his focus is more on teams (which is what we’re interested in here), and he draws out some of the necessary steps teams need to achieve to set goals together.

His main thesis is that goals motivate team members, but that in order to have goals that actually motivate, they need to:

  • Be clear: Team members need to understand what the goals are and what is being asked of them.
  • Have appropriate feedback mechanisms: Teams need to know if and how they are progressing on their goals, and individual team members need to receive feedback on their progress.

Later on, Locke teamed up with Dr. Gary Latham, and together they expanded Locke’s original theory into five principles of team goal-setting:

1. Clarity – Goals should be clearly understood

2. Challenge – Goals should adequately challenge the team. 

3. Commitment – The team as a whole needs to be committed to achieving the goal (again, the importance of “buy-in”). 

4. Feedback – Again, teams and individual members are aware of how they’re doing and where they need to make improvements.

5. Task complexity – The goal shouldn’t be too difficult for the team to achieve, and team members shouldn’t feel so overwhelmed by their tasks.

Other ways to achieve effective team goal-setting

While no model or framework can ever be complete, we feel like there are some things that both these systems leave out when it comes to goal-setting on teams. So below is a list of additional advice for teams. Some of these are related to the process of team-goal setting (and process is important), while others are things your team should be aware of. 

1. Brainstorm

Before coming up with SMART goals or ways of quantifying results, start off with a brainstorming session. This is especially crucial if your team is having issues with their long-term goals, or finding new goals to move towards. 

But even teams that have these locked down can benefit from brainstorming together, if only to see where everyone is at mentally and to “read the room.” At the beginning of the year, or at any point during the process of goal-setting, use a brainstorming session to take stock of your team and find out the valuable information and ideas that aren’t quantifiable. 

2 Love the process

Creating a process for achieving your goals can help your team come up SMARTer goals, as well as keep everyone unified and on the same page. Processes, as we’ve explained before, allow teams to work more efficiently and keep workflows in check, ensuring that each team member knows what to do and what the next step is.

3. Find leaders 

Leadership is important when it comes to team goal-setting. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that all leaders have to be appointed from the top. Find multiple leaders throughout your team  for different aspects of your goal, who are motivated and willing to test their leadership skills, even if that isn’t necessarily their official title. This will help create more buy-in and motivation, help your goals proceed more quickly, and help train new leaders for future projects. It’s a win, win, win.  

4. Get input from everyone

Along with brainstorming, make sure that you get input from your whole team on what their ideas and needs are in relation to your team-wide goals. Doing this makes your team more inclusive, and therefore unified. It’s also a way to create proper feedback mechanisms from team members to management, and from team members to  the rest of the team (which is just as critical as the feedback from management to team members). Continue to obtain input as the process of achieving your goal progresses, as well.

5. Don’t forget to treat team members as individuals

It’s easy for individual  team members to be subsumed by the rest of the team during team goal-setting. But it’s important to remember that team members are still individuals, with their own needs, desires, and even their own goals.

Use this to your advantage, though. If you can motivate team members individually, and harmonize their goals with the goals of your team, then you are well on your way to creating a truly effective team environment.

Here are two ways to do this: 

  • Support individual goals: Have an interest in what your team members’ individual goals are, and try to converge them with your team’s goals. For example, if someone wants to expand their skill set, maybe find a new role for them during your goal-setting process. 
  •  Offer incentives, training and mentoring, and praise: Remember that individuals need incentives in order to achieve goals, and that there has to be some communicable benefit for them at the end. Also offer any training or mentoring that team members may need. Finally, praise goes a long way in encouraging team members and making them feel like their work is being noticed and appreciated. 

6. Help each other 

Finally, remember that in team goal-setting, your power is in your team and their ability to support each other. Encourage this as much as possible, and work to create a psychologically safe, inclusive, and collaborative environment where team members are comfortable working, sharing and learning together. 

It’s not always easy though, which is why consistent team building can help refocus your team on their goals, and locate any weak points in your team’s environment that may be preventing them from achieving their goals.   

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