Five light bulbs arranged around clock hands, representing team goals.
Set Team Goals the Right Way With These 7 Steps
Five light bulbs arranged around clock hands, representing team goals.

Set Team Goals the Right Way With These 7 Steps

To perform at its best, your team needs a north star. Something they can strive for as they work, ensuring that they stay aligned no matter what they’re working on. As a manager and leader, it’s your responsibility to set the right team goals and keep everyone pushing in the same direction.

Here’s why putting some extra effort into these goals is important — and a breakdown of the best way to set them.

Why bother setting team goals?

If you’re leading a small, agile team, you might not think you need to spend too much time setting goals for them. After all, can’t they have a much larger impact if they’re self-directed? While it’s true that you need to trust your team to work on their own, they still need a goal to guide their efforts. Here’s why.

Self-directed teams do better with team goals

It seems like a contradiction until you really think about it. If your team doesn’t have any defined goals, they’re on their own. Whether they’re planning their day, their week, or their quarter, they have to start from scratch. If the organization has broader goals or a value statement, they have to find a way to bring them down to their level. But if you spend the time to set goals for them, your team will spend less time planning and more time doing.

Team goals communicate the team’s contribution to the organization

This is great for the team and great for the business. Your team gets to know exactly how their daily work helps move the needle for the business as a whole, and other teams know more about your contributions. That means fewer reports, better feedback, and fewer questions.

Team goals help measure and track your team’s impact

It’s one thing to know how your team is helping the business grow, it’s another to know by how much. When you make your team goals measurable, you’re helping your team show that they’re high-performers. That means better projects, bigger budgets, and raises all around.

7 steps for setting team goals the right way

Setting a goal isn’t a top-down process. You’ll need to work with your team to figure out a goal that makes sense for everyone. Here’s a step-by-step process for doing that.

Start from the business’s broader goals

You shouldn’t work on your team goals in a vacuum. Look through the business’s value statement, strategic memos, and anything else executives have shared with you. Your team’s goals should tie directly into the business’s priorities.

Brainstorm with your team

Using the business’s goals as a starting point, meet with your team and brainstorm potential goals together. There’s more than one way to do this, from asking your team to submit goals anonymously through a platform like Google Forms to meeting in person and spending a whole day workshopping potential goals.

Triage your ideas

Your team is probably going to have a lot of ideas — and not all of them are going to work. After you get their input, set some time aside to pull out the goals that make the most sense. Make sure they’re aligned with overall business goals, are achievable, and are tailored to your team’s strengths.

Make them SMART goals

SMART is an acronym you can use to set better team goals. Here’s what each letter stands for:

  • Specific: If your team’s goals are too general, it’ll be hard to know when their work actually contributes to it.
  • Measurable: By using pre-determined metrics, your team knows exactly how close they’ll be to achieving their goals.
  • Achievable: The best way to demoralize a team is to set a goal they won’t be able to achieve. Work with them to create a goal that they can actually reach.
  • Relevant: Does your team goal line up with the business’s broader goals? Everything your team does should help the business reach important milestones.
  • Time-bound: Without a deadline, there isn’t a lot of incentive to work towards a goal. Make sure you set one.

Communicate your goals with the team

Remember that you want your team’s input when you set a goal for them. So after you’ve done the work to triage and flesh out a goal, share it with the team. Invite them to give you feedback, whether publically or in private.

Apply feedback as necessary

You don’t have to take everything your team says to heart, but you should definitely trust in their expertise. They have a unique perspective when it comes to what can be achieved and what should be put on the back burner. Use their feedback.

Make your goals public

Whether you do this in a project management tool, a chat tool, or through a meeting depends on how your organization does things. However you do it, make sure to share your team’s goals not just with the team, but with your department and anyone you report to.

3 tips for setting team goals

There are three things you should consider when doing goal mapping for your team:

  • Confront the ugly side of your situation. Take stock of all of your team’s weaknesses and gaps. List all areas of concern and compare them to your current advantages. Do a realistic assessment of how far your team will have to go before you get to your ideal state.
  • Clarify the value of the goals you set. Your group isn’t going to be motivated if they don’t understand the importance of the goals they are trying to accomplish. Everyone has to be invested in what the team is trying to achieve, so clarify how the goals will contribute to the company as a whole.  
  • Clarity Priorities. Everyone on the team should understand where their priorities are. Repeat goals during meetings and encode them into a work management tool like Asana, Basecamp, or Trello for everyone to see. Don’t leave room for confusion or doubt.

3 project management tool features that help set team goals

Asana Workflows

Asana’s many organizational tools allow you to brainstorm your team’s top goals and document them as a workflow for total visibility across the entire group, whether it’s as a calendar, task list, or Kanban board.

Leverage Asana’s milestones feature to create templates that incorporate team goals into the project plan, so that you can be sure the team is always taking them into account. You can edit the project post-creation so that the placement of these goals is complementary to the project’s framework, not a hindrance.

Break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable parts so that work can proceed logically towards both your project and team goals. These can be recorded within Asana as tasks, which are the basic unit of action in Asana. Each task is a single step in your project that can be assigned to a person or persons for completion.

Basecamp Editorial Calendar

Basecamp can help you create an editorial calendar so that you can easily view your project schedule, deadlines, and individual team responsibilities. Your team goals can then be placed as milestones and assigned their own to-do list, so it’s clear how those goals will be accomplished.

Once you’ve given each person their tasks, they can show their progress towards their goals by tracking time on their to-do lists. It’s a simple and convenient process that acknowledges contributions and helps measure productivity.

If you’re working with cross-functional teams who have their own favored project management tools, you can still coordinate schedules by exporting your Basecamp schedule to Google Calendar. Keep all your goals aligned while giving teams the freedom to work they want.

Weekly Goal Tracking in Trello

Trello’s card-based Kanban interface gives you a flexible way of tracking and managing tasks throughout your project. But it also gives you a way to incorporate weekly goals into your operations for effective project and process management.

It’s a simple concept: once a week the team gathers together to review their accomplishments for the previous week and decide on next steps. But it’s also important to review missed goals and the reason behind it. Once the team uncovers the underlying reason for the lapse, you can determine whether or not you need to change your overall work process in order to prevent it from happening again in the future.

To implement this goal tracking process, create a card in Trello and use the checklist function to record your weekly goals. Put the Trello task on repeat. This will create a copy of the card on a predetermined schedule (in this case, once a week). You can modify each new occurrence of the weekly goals card with whatever you’re prioritizing for that period.

These are just a few of the ways you can use commonly available tools to map team goals. But simply using a tool isn’t enough. Constantly remind your team members of their goals and emphasize their importance. Once this has been ingrained, your team will be better equipped to tackle any challenge the project throws their way.