How to Set Objectives as a Team

March 29, 2015

Is teamwork absolutely essential to delivering the plan in your company? Are there multiple interdependencies among you and your teammates that affect your ability to get things done? Are there times when you need to share resources to make sure the most important things are accomplished? Do you set your objectives independently so that your boss is the only person who knows what you’re being held accountable for?

Wait. Stop. Did you answer “yes” to the first three questions and “no” to the fourth? If so, you’re in trouble. Big trouble.

I know, once you put it in black and white, it seems ridiculous. You are dependent on your teammates and they are dependent on you and yet you have absolutely no visibility to what they are on the hook for and they are similarly in the dark about your goals.

That leads to statements like the one I heard the other day “they aren’t being held accountable!”

I’m still amazed that there are people who genuinely, passionately believe that the boss is holding them accountable, cranking up the heat, putting on the pressure and NOT doing the same for everyone else.

But I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised.  The problem is that you know exactly what’s on your performance targets. And you know exactly what kind of uncomfortable situation you have to face when you’re off track.  And you find out exactly what you are rated in your performance appraisal and how that translates into bonus and salary increases. And you probably know nothing about those things for your teammates.

Even if we can’t (or shouldn’t) change all of those things, at the very least, objective setting should be a team activity, not an individual one. Follow this basic outline:

  1. The team leader discusses the objectives for the team with his/her manager. The overall goals for the team form the starting point.
  2. The team leader assembles the team and shares the goals for the whole group. The team discusses the goals and starts to consider the work effort required to accomplish them. (I would allow 2 hours for this discussion.)
  3. Team members work independently on a first draft of two lists: what I need to accomplish for the team to be successful; and what I need from my teammates.
  4. Distribute the draft objectives so everyone can read them.
  5. Conduct a workshop session where you address the following questions:
    • If we do all of the things on the list, will we achieve the goals of the team?
    • What additional objectives do we need to add to be successful?
    • How would we prioritize the objectives, which objectives would be sacrificed in favor of which others?
    • Which proposed objectives will lead to work that is not a priority for the team?
  6. Team members revise their objectives based on the overall team priorities.
  7. Share revised objectives among the team and make any final revisions to the individual and team objectives. (Note: the team objectives then become the team leader’s performance objectives.)

Now you start the year with clarity about what the team is required to accomplish, what your role is in making those goals a reality, and how your work contributes to, and depends on, the work of your teammates.

In my next post, I’ll talk about how to stick with the team approach when you reach the inevitable point in the year when the original objectives get thrown out the window.

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