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The Urgent Need For Goal Clarity

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Goal clarity appears simple and is simple, yet many teams get it wrong.

It is the baseline for team performance.

Setting goals for teams is no different from setting them for an individual.

The principles of the performance management cascade apply equally to a team setting.

Teams by their nature are task orientated or, more accurately stated, activity oriented.

They want to ‘do’ things.

When presented with a simple task a team will often jump straight in without thinking first about what needs to be achieved.

However, without clear goals there is nothing to plan and evaluate.

In fact, goal clarity is the baseline for all team performance.

Without a clear path of where we are going, why we are going there, how we will get there, when we will get there and what getting there looks like, all other aspects of team performance are inaccessible.

Without goal clarity, team roles cannot be determined, team structure (what skills are required) cannot be established, planning and evaluation techniques cannot be appropriately selected, an appropriate leadership style cannot be delivered, communication and decision-making methods cannot be clarified, and individual performance and contribution cannot be assessed.

They all require a goal as the starting point.

Goal clarity is not a ‘one off’.

It is important to constantly clarify the goals of any team.

It is not unusual to have a team claim goal clarity and then find that, when members are challenged individually on the goals of the team, they express a differing and even contradictory understandings if the goals.

This can lead to wasted efforted, duplication of tasks, incorrect prioritisation, some tasks not being performed at all, and frustration and confusion.

It is certainly not an environment where a team can achieve its most effective state.

Goal clarity not only impacts all aspects of effectiveness, but also provides the road map, the vision of what success looks like; it is essential in uniting the team effort to reach the common goal.

The team’s goal process is, in essence, no different to an organisation’s goal process or indeed the performance management process.

It is, however specific to the team and must be carried out as an independent exercise.

There are a series of questions that must be answered and clearly understood by all team members.

The questioning process is not just a first step but must be repeated at regular intervals.

It must never be assumed that the goals are clear and that every team member interprets them in the same way.

Communicating goals just once is never enough.

For many, it may seem like overkill and unnecessary to constantly remind team members of goals, but it is a critical task of leadership.

If these are not continuously reaffirmed, any team will be less than effective in terms of its capability.

It will likely end up somewhere other than where it intended to be in the first instance.

Questions and actions to be addressed by the team and leader

Teams need to address goals at two levels – at the team level and then, and only then, at the individual level, ensuring that individual goals align with team goals.

There is only one way to do this properly and it involves the team in a discussion based on the following questions.

This is not an exhaustive list but if, as a team, you can answer all these questions you will greatly enhance the level of team goal clarity.

Why do we exist? What is our purpose? – The vision that emphasises the overall purpose and ethos of the team.

What do we need to achieve in the immediate term? – The mission for the immediate future.

When do we need to achieve this – The deadline.

Why do we need to achieve this? – Benefits, impacts, importance and consequences of failure.

What are the objectives (sub-goals) that need to be achieved? – The key milestones that inform the team of overall progress.

Who or what is the end beneficiary of the goal(s)? – Ourselves, another department, the organization overall, a customer, a combination of these?

What does success look like? How will we know we are there? – The standards to be established and what provides impetus and drive to complete the tasks.

Have the goals changed recently or are they relatively static? – New projects, new team remit or is it business as usual?

How does the team deal with changes to the goals? – Formal process, one-to-one, at a team level or through project planning adjustments?

Are the goals all recorded and accessible/visible to all? – Central registry, hard or soft copy, at the individual level and shared by members between themselves, or openly discussed at team meetings?

Are team goals and individual goals aligned? – One-to-one in a discussion with the leader or a team-level discussion?

How often does the team/team leader review goal progress? – Weekly, monthly, quarterly? Is the review interval appropriate?

How often does performance feedback occur? What form does it take? – Informal chats on a weekly basis, quick ‘check-ins’ via technology or formal performance meetings on a monthly or quarterly basis?

How do team members reconcile individual work goals and team goals when priorities have to be made? – With or without the support of the team leader?

It should not be a surprise when projects are inefficient and require realigning.

Too often than not, goals are not set appropriately and not reviewed in the right or timely manner.

Not only should individual goals be set but a team goal, so that all collaborative work is productive, efficient and valued.

Dr Simon Mac Rory

Dr Simon Mac Rory

Team Development


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