More than Squad Goals: The Collaborative Heart of Goal-Setting

““Collaboration” is kind of a buzzword, but, as noted, actually doing it can be kind of a buzzkill.”
Brice Montgomery

Like many of you, we’re finishing January by solidifying our plans for the year. We’re marking the calendar for vacations, taking stock of how we’ll fill our days, and setting some goals (*cough* branding a restaurant *cough*) for the next eleven months. As a team, we’ve realized that even though it’s easy enough to set goals as an individual, it’s a different beast entirely to factor in everyone’s opinions.

Collaborative goal-setting is something that looks great on paper but can be a hassle in practice. You might wonder if it’s even worthwhile or if it’s just a perfunctory gesture to make people feel like their opinion matters, and the really depends on your starting point, which is why we’re going to give you arguments for and against collaborative goal-setting, followed by a few ideas about how to implement it if you choose to take the plunge.

collaborative goal setting

Why You Shouldn’t Collaborate

“Collaboration” is kind of a buzzword, but, as noted, actually doing it can be kind of a buzzkill. It’s where egos and insecurities come out to play, and it often seems almost guaranteed that somebody will feel disrespected. That in and of itself may be a good enough reason for your team to steer clear. 

Furthermore, any decision that involves multiple people automatically slows to a crawl. Have you ever been on a road trip where everybody in a van had to vote on a restaurant for lunch? Collaborative goal-setting evokes that energy on a grand scale, and it often reveals the extent to which people are personally invested in the organization. Beyond being a metric of organizational health, this can also be a great reason to pursue group goal-setting.

collaborative goal setting

Why You Should Collaborate 

“Everyone deserves a voice” is only a true statement if leadership makes it true. If you don’t actually intend to incorporate people’s ideas, the tacit implication is that you don’t really think opinions matter. A good starting point, then, is evaluating where goals intersect with real lives..

Here are some big picture questions to consider when initiating collaborative goal-setting: 

1. How do organization-wide goals influence individuals?

We can almost guarantee you’ve been in a situation where your supervisors introduce “an exciting new initiative” that makes you think, “hm, this doesn’t feel like the organization I fell in love with.” With that in mind, you have to recognize that every organizational goal ultimately impacts the individuals on your team, and this is why goal-setting is a great opportunity to consult your core stakeholders.

2. Where do individual goals complement the organization’s goals?

What do your team members hope to accomplish in a year? How does their work in your organization align with their ambitions for their personal lives? You likely cannot accommodate everyone perfectly, but with personal buy-in being so important, as noted by Andrea Belk Olsen, it’s to your benefit to encourage individual strengths and goals and find where they intersect with those of the organization. One way we’ve done this is by building a spreadsheet (everyone’s favorite) with an outline for all of our blog and social content. In this space, people can workshop ideas and pick topics that best play to their strengths and interests.

3. What perspective is gained with more voices?

This may seem obvious, but you should consider why you actually want more voices speaking into the goal-setting process. If they are going to help your organization see itself from more angles, there’s good reason to ask for input. If, instead, you’re seeking input to reinforce your own biases, it’s probably not worth the effort to initiate the whole process.

Assuming that you’re still interested in setting goals as a team, you need to have some sort of systematic process that accommodates everyone, and that creates yet another challenge.

collaborative goal setting

The Individual and the Collective

Everyone is wired differently, and while you may verbally champion different personality types and strengths, you may find that certain personalities or preferences dominate the decision-making process if you aren’t intentional about eliciting feedback. I’ve written elsewhere about effective brainstorming, and one point I stressed then and echo now is the importance of having enough time for everyone. 

Part of the challenge, though, is that “enough time” looks very different if we want to act in a way conducive to a range of strengths. For example, I—Brice—am very rambly in meetings, so a group brainstorming session is going to be less effective for me than staring at a blank google doc for a few hours. Conversely, other people on our team need the spur-of-the-moment immediacy of a roundtable discussion to share their best ideas. 

With that in mind, you should try to create different methods for people to brainstorm goals, and you should approach it as an ongoing process. Depending on the size of your team—or at least the ones contributing to goals—this is likely not something that can be accomplished in a day or even a few days. Likewise, you should maintain a consistent model for what those goals will look like. One example might be SMART goals. As a team, we normally shudder at the invocation of acronyms. It’s deep in our DNA—sorry, “deoxyribonucleic acid”—but this model is one of the rare exceptions, and for good reason. As always, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and you should explore models that are the best fit for your particular context. 

There’s plenty of time to accomplish your goals; make sure you take plenty of time to set them. If you’re interested in some extra support or learning more, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

Brice Montgomery
Creative Director
Brice likes to think through how messages are best translated for different audiences and purposes. He also makes baked goods.


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