Which Are Better: Individual or Team Goals?

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Goal setting is one of the most powerful motivational tools in your arsenal. Specifically, in times of crisis, previously set goals will have to be adjusted due to revised cash flow forecasts, sales projections, and more. Even when times are changing, continuously updating and setting goals is necessary to keep your business on track. 

Having set goals will help you and your team feel a stronger sense of purpose and direction. With several projects going on at once, it can sometimes feel like work is getting done at a slower pace. But putting goals in place will help you and your team feel productive with each little accomplishment and ensures that larger projects stay on track.

However, when it comes to motivation and productivity, as a manager or business owner, 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? 

Things to Consider Before Setting Goals

Before diving into your goal setting and making the decision to prioritize individual or team goals, you’ll want to consider the following:

Team size

The size of your team will play a major role in how feasible any 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.

Current needs

While you may want to stick strictly with quarterly goals and initiatives, you need to take your current needs into account. Depending on your situation, you may need to be regularly revisiting your goals, adjusting objectives, and adapting on the fly.

For example, if your business is struggling, you’ll need all hands on deck to work together and right the ship (setting team goals to accomplish this). But if things are good, you may wish to focus on more personal development to plan for future expansion.

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Why you should set team goals

Organization or team goals are necessary to guide your overall business. It includes broad objectives that can be broken down into team projects and initiatives with individual key results. 

As you’ve likely written a business plan, you know that forecasting and setting up objectives for your business are necessary to start and pitch a business. But here are a few reasons why you should continue to create team goals.

Collaboration

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.

Here at Palo Alto Software, we love starting off by setting company and team goals. Those goals help inform our individual goals and allow our smaller accomplishments to contribute to the greater success of the company. Your company can implement this kind of goal setting too.

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.

Bigger rewards

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.

More flexibility

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.

Additionally, there are opportunities to pivot and adjust if a team goal is found to be unrealistic or pursuing the wrong direction. Like you compare financial forecasts to current results, comparing the progression and performance of team goals can help you avoid spending money, time, and effort on fruitless projects.

Why you should set individual goals

Individual goals are important because they give direction to your employees. While team goals are great for the overall direction, individual goals will allow your team members to take distinct paths to digest the larger goal and turn it into action. Here are just a few reasons why you should consider setting individual goals:

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 most efficient process for 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.

So which is better?

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.

Team goals help to create structure for your employees and company as a whole, while individual goals are important in giving your employees the ability to bite off and truly digest how they can make an impact on the larger goal set forth. 

Use your best judgment to determine how to set goals for your company and employees. Remember that when able, harnessing both styles of goal setting concurrently will help to produce better results and happier, more productive employees.

Makenna Crocker
Makenna Crocker
Makenna Crocker is a content marketing specialist at Palo Alto Software. Her recent work involves editorial, video, and social optimization with a focus on strategically presenting information in ways that are both captivating and insightful to the viewer. She is currently studying advertising at the University of Oregon and will be graduating in the spring of 2020.
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