All for one: Setting team goals to enable flow

There is plentiful evidence for the value and impact of goal-setting in the workplace. According to a CIPD report: “It is now generally accepted that goal-setting is effective and valuable for steering and improving performance.”

The basic concept at the heart of goal-setting is that having a specific and appropriately challenging goal will lead to higher performance than a vague, unchallenging or completely out-of-reach one. Achieving meaningful goals helps us grow, leaving us feeling successful and satisfied. That’s linked to employee motivation and organisational commitment.

Having clearly defined team goals is part of the alignment that enables teams to create and experience ‘flow’ together. Flow is the optimum state of intrinsic motivation, in which people experience peak performance and greater wellbeing. Having clarity of goals is one of Csikszentmihalyi’s eight elements of flow.

Team goals

While goal-setting is accepted as good workplace practice, the way they are set is not always effective. In Marcus Buckingham’s book Nine Lies about Work he debunks the trend for ‘cascaded’ goals, where goals are set annually (often never to be checked on again) and aim to create alignment from the CEO’s vision right down to the ‘shop floor’.

“The only way for [goals] to be valuable is if we set them for ourselves, voluntarily, if they come from within” Buckingham writes. “If a goal is imposed on you from above, or cascaded upon you, it’s an un-goal and no longer serves any purpose.”

To achieve team flow, goals need to come “from within” the team itself. In his book Group genius: The creative power of collaboration, Keith Sawyer writes that teams require a clear, team-level, common goal, which evolves through feedback, collaboration and individual adaptation.

Setting team goals

For teams to reach an optimum flow state, every member of the team needs to feel as if they are working on something meaningful together, not just a collection of our individual contributions.

Here are some tips on setting team goals, leading to team flow:

-Goals should be short-term and specific. Setting short-term goals can be powerful as it should lead to more regular opportunities to review and – if the goals are appropriately stretching – feelings of success and growth, boosting motivation.

– Goals should be framed as positive (“I will start” rather than “I want to stop”) and linked to strengths. Using our strengths at work makes us more engaged, more productive and leads to significant upticks in performance.

– Monitor and discuss goals regularly. Teams should have weekly or even daily check-ins, with every team member sharing how they are working towards achieving the team goals, and how they will contribute and collaborate to get there. While having quarterly objective check-ins is a step in the right direction, goals need to be discussed more regularly to contribute to flow.

– Goals should be sufficiently challenging, yet attainable. Hitting the perfect balance between skills and challenge is a key component of getting in flow.

– Goals should be created and agreed on together. Gallup research has found that employees who say their manager includes them in goal setting are 2.3 times more likely to say their performance goals are realistic than those whose managers do not.

– While it is critical to have collective team goals, these must be aligned to team members’ personal goals. Individuals need to understand how they are contributing to the team goal through their own actions.