Goals are the carrots that keep teams motivated.

Goals are the carrots that keep teams motivated.

Teams are a critical tool to deliver work in IT organizations. There are several common attributes of effective teams. A simple search of the internet or the books on your shelves will yield myriad lists that identify attributes of effective teams. Nearly every list is topped by shared team goals. In order to be effective, goals must be aspirational, lead activity and agreed upon.

Goals by definition need to be aspirational. Goals guide teams to improve how they perform.  In order for a goal to be aspirational, a goal must be set beyond what typical performance levels would deliver BUT be both attainable and be perceived as important to helping the broader organization meet it mission.  Goals that are not attainable or not perceived to be important will not inspire or motivate teams. Team members elevate their performance because they can make a difference.

Goals provide teams with an objective. In order to meet their objectives teams use the goals as a tool in the planning process. For example, in Agile projects each sprint will reflect both goals of the release plan (high-level goals) and stories selected by the product owner that are required to generate the tasks needed to deliver value. Without goals to focus on planning teams will be apt to wander.

Goals work best when teams participate in setting their goals rather than having goals imposed. Earlier in my career I was a marketing statistician for a women’s garment manufacturer. It was one of the most top-down organizations I have ever worked for in my career (and it no longer exists). At the beginning of every sales period I would lead the sales department in setting quotas for the sales force based on historical data and market intelligence. These quotas were then assigned to the sales force. I spent time in meetings (and bars) with the sales people, and to a person I learned that the quotas motivated no one (each sales person was driven, but not by quotas). Had we involved them in setting the quotas required to meet the company goals, it is very possible that the sales people would have been motivated by the process.

Goals that are out or reach or inflicted on a team will sap them of critical motivation and can cause poor behavior. Teams that do not believe in the goals they are asked to pursue can and do reject those goals, and then under-perform or end up not delivering what the business needs. Goals are important tools to provide teams with a vision of what they need to accomplish and then provide reinforcing motivation.