Goal setting is one of the most powerful motivational tools in your arsenal.
You can set goals for yourself, your business as a whole, and for different combinations of your partners and employees as well. These goals can often work together; for example, you might set a collective goal to reach a certain amount of revenue in sales for you and your team, but an individual goal to earn three new leads per day.
However, when it comes to motivation and productivity, is it better to set individual goals, which help you and your teammates develop yourselves over time, or team goals, which unite your efforts and encourage collaboration?
Individual goal advantages
Setting individual goals comes with some advantages in this area:
Balancing strengths and weaknesses
First, every member of your team is going to have unique strengths and weaknesses. You are not the same type of worker as your partner, your assistant, or the independent contractors you work with. Setting individual goals for each of these people allows you to create goals with their specific qualities in mind.
For example, if your programmer is meticulous but slow, encourage them to work faster by setting quantity-based targets. If you find yourself distracted all the time, set goals that encourage you to better focus.
If you aren’t sure what your team members’ strengths and weaknesses are, consider staging performance reviews to find out. Work with each individual to mutually analyze their recent performance and identify target areas for improvement.
Greater control and accountability
Individual goals also give you more control over who’s working on what, which can be useful if you’re trying to coordinate the best efforts of a team of people.
It also makes your teammates more accountable; when the team fails to meet a goal, blame can be shifted and apathy can set in. When you fail to meet an individual goal, there are no excuses to hide behind.
In line with this inherent accountability, you should establish rewards for those who meet their individual goals and consequences for those who don’t—even if those consequences only amount to a less-than-stellar performance review during your next round of evaluations.
More personal interest
As a general rule, people tend to invest themselves more fully in goals that were set specifically for them, rather than goals that were set for the entire group. According to Success Factors, the most successful businesses are the ones that set individual goals that relate to overall company progress, because it helps individuals view, value, and invest in their unique roles within the organization.
That doesn’t mean team-centric goals can’t encourage a similar degree of personal investment, but it does put them at a slight disadvantage. You may also find your employees more willing to take charge of setting their own individual goals, based on personal passions, interests, or recognition of areas of weakness.
Team goal advantages
However, team goals also have their share of benefits:
Team goals force your workers to work together on given projects. Because everyone is working toward the same end result, such as hitting a sales target or yielding a certain ROI for your campaign, they’ll be more willing to work together.
When one person hits an obstacle, another can tag in, and in this way, your employees will balance out each other’s strengths and weaknesses more naturally. Over time in this environment, you’ll see higher levels of interaction and morale, which can boost productivity. Individual goals don’t support this level of camaraderie to the same degree.
Team goals tend to be bigger than individual goals; you might seek the completion of a massive project, rather than completion of some small set of sub-tasks within that project.
Accordingly, when you hit those goals, the rewards are bigger. You’ll feel a higher sense of accomplishment, and you’ll want to reward yourselves proportionally. It also means completing those goals will be more valuable to the company as a whole.
Team goals also have more potential paths for achievement. Because these goals are bigger, longer-term, and less micromanaged, there are more alternative routes that your employees can take to get there. By contrast, individual goals are usually created with a greater degree of specificity and direction, giving employees a more direct and rigid path toward achievement.
Goal setting: Other considerations
There are also other variables you’ll need to consider when determining what types of goals to set:
The size of your team will play a major role in how feasible your team goals actually are.
For the most part, it’s better to have a small team with just a few people when setting team goals. There are fewer variables here and it’s easier to encourage collaboration. With a large team, it’s a good idea to break your team down into smaller sub-groups, which are more easily managed by their respective team leaders.
Culture and dispositions
Your company culture and individual dispositions may cater to one choice over the other.
For example, if your business encourages your employees to be themselves and earn personal achievements, or if your employees strongly prefer to remain heads-down on their own assignments, individual goals will be better. If you’re more about collaboration and interpersonal encouragement, team goals could be the way to go.
There’s no right or wrong answer here—it all depends on the type of environment you want to support.
The nature of your current needs should also come into play.
For example, if the business is struggling, you’ll need all hands on deck to work together and right the ship (setting team goals to accomplish this). If things are good, you may wish to focus on more personal development to plan for future expansion.
The bottom line
Because there are so many advantages, disadvantages, and variables for both types of goals, there is no single, true “winner” here. Both team goals and individual goals can help improve motivation and promote higher productivity, though they’re each better used in some applications over others.