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Team Performance: Goals

Updated: Jul 15, 2021

Have you ever left a meeting and thought “Well that’s 30 minutes of my life that could have been an email”? During one of those meetings, have you caught yourself sighing, maybe rolling your eyes, and wanting to say, “what is the point?!”

I was recently asked to come up with “rules” after an executive witnessed another executive actively fall asleep during a virtual meeting (and before you laugh, remember there is probably a virtual meeting or two you almost took a snooze through). While rules might help, I wondered how purposeful the meeting was in the first place.

The overwhelming piece of feedback I hear from teams who come to me for assistance is that their meetings lack structure and direction. After I dig into their work, conduct a survey or two, and interview the team, I often learn this is just a symptom of a much larger problem. Teams that struggle to have a productive, well-planned and executed meeting also tend to lack purpose and direction in their work.

This becomes very clear in interviews when they are asked the simple question “What are your team goals?” and each person provides a different response. And even when the responses are similar, they are shared with uncertainty, as though they are guessing the answer to the question. Occasionally, I work with teams whose members can’t answer the question at all.

Being clear on what the team is aiming toward is a mission critical aspect of their success. In this article, we’ll discuss the type of goal that is most effective, how to structure it, and how to know if the team is aligned.

Make it worthy

When I’m interviewing teams and ask “What are your team goals?” it is not unusual to hear something broad like “We give great customer service.” In healthcare I often hear “we provide great patient care.”

These are terrible team goals. Seriously.

They are terrible because they are a minimum expectation. If you are a customer service team, your service should be great. If you are a team in a clinic or hospital, you should provide great care. Obvious statements that reflect your core work are not team goals.

Team goals rally a team around a common purpose and paint a picture of what is different as a result of working together. You may provide great customer service or patient care but what differentiates your actions from what is already expected?

Here are some examples:

  • Customer Service: We show our customers we care by responding to their voicemail and email inquiries within 24 hours.

  • Healthcare: We ensure patient-focused and safe shift changes by completing the Patient Needs Check List that is signed by both the departing nurse and the arriving nurse during the transition between shifts.

You probably notice specificity and reference to timing. These are important elements to an effective goal. We will dive deeper into these elements a bit later in the article.

So, what makes a worthy goal? One that factors in the team’s perspective and is aspirational.

We kicked off this series with the 1st Essential Component to a High Performing Team: Communication, Ask Questions and Listen. A leader’s first step to defining goals for their team is to ask the team and listen.

Defining goals

We all know that we are more likely to buy into something when we have a say in it. This means that influencing a team to engage in goals begins by asking the team. Either the leader of the team or a volunteer who has interest are the best options to guide the team through this process. A coach or a Learning and Development professional can help is a great option as well.

Begin with a team meeting to discuss these questions. If you want to improve the odds of discussion, provide the questions in advance.

  • What does success look like? What is our team really good at?

  • What impact do you want to see our team make?

  • What value do we provide and why would our clients/customers/patients want to routinely come back to us?

After the team discussion, conduct one-on-one meetings to gather additional ideas. It is not unusual for team members to hold back ideas in a large group for fear of rejection or embarrassment. Providing one-on-one time will yield candor and draw out ideas that went unshared.

Upon completion of large group and individual discussions, make bullet points of the common themes identified. No need to draft the goal statements at this point. Just share the themes with the large group. Ask the team to vote on their top three to convert into team goal statements.

SMT Goals

Now it is time to draft the goal statements. The facilitator of the process can make a go of writing the statements, or a small group, but not the entire team. The first way to disengage a team in goals is to put everyone through an editing process.

When it comes to drafting goal statements, many will think of SMART goals and these are ideal. The mnemonic here stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable/Achievable (or Assignable, depending on the source), Realistic, and Time-bound.

In theory, a SMART goal makes great sense. However, in practice they can be overkill. For example, some teams will waste time trying to define or understand what attainable and realistic mean for their work. The optimists on the team want to shoot for the stars saying “Anything is possible!”. The skeptics on the team want to pull back. "achievable" and "realistic" tend to push people into overthinking it.

I encourage teams to determine three of the five components of a SMART goal. Get specific, measure it, and put a deadline to it (time-bound). Then, get to work. Defining an SMT goal will set teams on a much clearer path.

Make them visible and measure

Once those goals are drafted, share with the team one more time, celebrate a job well-done and then publish them. The goals should be visible in a place that reminds the team, routinely, what they are working toward. Publishing the goals does not have to be formal. It can be in the header of a meeting agenda or on a bulletin board. What is important is that the goals are easily accessible to everyone on the team.

The measure of whether the team is aligned on goals is performance. Is the team achieving the results desired? If not, check-in and ask the team, “What are our goals?” If members of the team are not able to give a consistent answer, then that may speak to the lack of performance. There is more work to do.

Think about how frequently the team discusses the goals, who was involved in creating the goals, or how people are reminded of them. Frequent discussion, visual reminders, and routine evaluation will keep goals at the center of work and usher the team toward their accomplishments.

Goals are the guideposts for a team’s work together. Without them, it is difficult to make informed decisions, set priorities, and keep the team (and ourselves) on track.

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Until next time!


Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leadership and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm.

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