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Help Your Team Perform at their Peak by Helping Your Team Set Goals

Helping Your Team Set GoalsIf you want to help your team perform at their peak by helping your team set goals, take some advice from Michael Johnson. Michael Johnson, the Olympic champion sprinter, had a goal to win the 200 and 400 meter sprints at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. The problem was that the 200 and the 400 races were always held on the same day. Under those circumstances, it was impossible for anyone to recover enough between races to win the second race. To reach his goal Johnson did two things: first, he and his coach developed a workout plan that emphasized quick recovery. Second, every day Johnson petitioned the Olympic Committee to move the 200 and the 400-meter races to different days! His petition succeeded, and he became the first person ever to win gold medals for both races, at the same Olympics.

Having great goals can motivate performance. We can use a three-stage process to create winning goals for our teams.

The three steps to helping your team set goals are:

  1. Find the goal
  2. Refine the goal
  3. Follow up

Find the Goal

The best way to figure out what an individual’s goal should be is to look at the bigger picture – the organization as a whole. An organization’s vision and goals are ultimately achieved by each individual in the company. When we set a team member’s goal we need to make sure that it is aligned with the goals of the organization. Sound obvious? Too bad this tip isn’t always followed.

First we ask: What is our company’s vision?” One example might be “To develop a new product line every year.” Next we ask, “What does our department need to do to achieve this vision?” To help develop a new product line a sales manager’s goal may be to “survey industry leaders for their needs.” Next, the manager may give one of his team members the goal of “contacting five customers a day to interview them.” Once we work down this pyramid, the goals and their rationale become clearer. When goals align this way, team members can see how their efforts help the overall success of the company. A famous story about John F. Kennedy illustrates this mindset. JFK was doing a tour of NASA and saw a man cleaning the corridor. The president stopped him to say hello and asked him what he did at NASA. The man answered ‘I’m putting a man on the moon.” The cleaner could clearly see how his work linked to NASA’s overall mission.

Refine the Goal

The first stage gave us an initial goal. Now we will take that goal and tweak it so it has the right level of challenge for each individual. Providing the right amount of challenge is important. University of Chicago professor Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi spent thirty
years conducting research into the “flow” experience. What Dr. C found is that being challenged creates powerful engagement that leads to peak performance. Of course there must also be a balance of skills vs. challenges. This is why premier athletes compete against each other – they provide each other with the right level of challenge. Finding the right level of challenge means we are engrossed in a difficult task but not overwhelmed by it.

This can be a tricky process. It can be tempting to set goals too high or too low for the individual or the team. Poorly set goals can be worse than having no goals at all. For example, in the 1970s, Ford Motor Company set the goal of creating the Pinto for under $2000 – or about $11,000 in today’s money. This goal was too straining, it led employees to overlook safety testing. The result? Fifty-three deaths caused by a gas tank that exploded after a rear end collision. Or consider a mayor’s office that set a goal for their staff to not let any calls go to voicemail. Their goal was to answer 98% of their calls. Because staff members were in a hurry to end one call and answer the next, call quality went down. The office soon changed the goal to include customer satisfaction.

There are many ways to create goals that are more challenging. We can ask for a faster pace, better quality, fewer errors, or better customer service scores. We will choose the appropriate “stretch” based on what fits the individual. One employee might work more independently. But if the individual is new to their role, this might not be the best way to challenge them.

If we find the right balance our team member will look interested when they say, “This is a real challenge!” If the individual uses a monotone voice to say, “This is
manageable,” the goal may be too easy. This employee may not be motivated to perform at their peak. If our employee looks overwhelmed and says, “This is impossible!” we may have to modify the goal so it won’t create problems.

Following Up

Managers will need to decide on milestones that the individual should aim to meet. This will give individuals guidance and keep them on track to success. We also want team members to know about resources that are available. We will want to review goals at least quarterly. If a team member is having trouble, we can break down the goal into smaller steps.

Here are four questions you can ask to help determine if a goal needs tweaking.

  1. Have any new company or team priorities emerged?
  2. Have existing priorities changed?
  3. Is the level of stretch still appropriate for the team member?
  4. Has it become too easy or difficult due to changing circumstances?

We want to measure our goals but not all measurements need to be quantitative;
feedback from customers, coworkers, or senior managers can be an alternative way to gauge performance.

Helping your team set goals is an ongoing process. Both the manager and employee should be involved when finding, refining, and following up on goals. Setting great goals will not just help a company’s performance; it can also make a task much more interesting and help individuals grow in their roles. Research says that employees value growth at work as much as they do a pay raise. Providing great goals can allow a manager to delegate some of their own work to help develop high performing team members. Then the manager too can work to achieve his or her own new goals.


Author: Doug Staneart, Date Published: February 26, 2016

Doug Staneart is president of The Leader's Institute ®. He is based in the Dallas, Texas Region. He is a specialist in corporate team building activities and custom presentation skills seminars.

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