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Improved Performance Starts with Planning III

Improved Performance Starts with Planning III

The third of four articles addressing performance planning

This article addresses planning group performance by setting goals at the group level. The final article in this series will review pitfalls to avoid when setting goals. "The optimal strategy is to set goals for the group as well as for each individual within the group. This is often what occurs in effective teambuilding and quality circle sessions. The groups decide on a common objective, and action steps (goals) are then set showing who will do what, when." This advice comes from Goal Setting by Edwin Locke and Gary Latham. When work is interdependent, setting goals for groups fosters a higher degree of cooperation and communication within the group. As a result, organizational performance improves. What should be considered when setting group goals? Several issues and principles are worth noting.

Factors Affecting Goal Levels

Three major factors come into play when setting group goals:

  • Prior performance of the group is perhaps the most powerful factor that influences where a goal level is set. Groups have a tendency to raise goal levels after successful performance and to lower them after a failure.
  • Other groups may also influence group members in selecting their goals. A rivalry between groups may cause group members to set unrealistically high goals for themselves.
  • Anticipated success or failure also plays a role in goal choice. Members who have a strong desire for group success will want to set goals that are difficult but not impossible to achieve. On the other hand, members who wish to avoid group failure are less likely to set goals of intermediate difficulty than to set goals at either extreme. Such groups prefer either easy goals (because the group is not likely to fail) or a very difficult goal (because failure at a difficult level is not threatening to them).


The principles of goal setting for individuals, as discussed in a previous article in this series (Workforce Performance), also apply to groups. Successful group goal setting must include specifying tasks, setting targets, developing clear measures, outlining time frames, prioritizing goals, rating goal performance, and coordinating efforts necessary for goal achievement.

Team Goals

Teams are a special type of group. Setting team goals is especially important to the teams' success. In their book, Teaming Up, Darrel Ray and Howard Bronstein summed it up best when they said:

"Without goals which can be measured there is no team." Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith, authors of The Wisdom of Teams, provide a checklist that can help pinpoint trouble spots in the team or group goal setting process:

  • Are the goals truly team goals or are they broader organizational goals or a leader's goals?
  • Are they clear, simple, and measurable? If not measurable, are they verifiable?
  • Are they realistic, as well as ambitious? Do they allow small wins along the way?
  • Do they call for a concrete set of team work products?
  • Is their relative importance and priority clear to all members?
  • Do all members agree with the goals, their relative importance, and the way in which their achievement will be measured?
  • Do all members articulate the goals in the same way?

Let Customers Drive Goals

Keeping in mind the principles and factors of goal setting, goals should also be based on internal and external customer needs and expectations. Using customer feedback to provide information for establishing goals has several benefits:

  • Customer feedback provides direction for optimal performance improvement.
  • Goals can be stated in terms of the customer's words rather than the supervisor's or the employees' words.
  • Customers' expectations can be managed more easily by including them in the goal setting process.

Group Involvement in Goal Setting

Employees should be involved in setting group goals. A group of peers can suggest more insightful feedback on work objectives than a single manager or supervisor. One manager cited in the article, "Customer Service Drives 360-Degree Goal Setting" from the June 1995 issue of Personnel Journal, observes, "Group goal setting provided a much greater understanding of the roles that people play. Involving peers and teams [in the goal-setting process] aligned people and established role clarification."

Using Group Goals in Performance Management

Group goals can be an integral part of performance management programs. With the new definition of non-critical and additional performance elements, it is easier to use the Federal appraisal process for communicating goals and measuring and appraising group performance against established goals. The regulations define a non-critical element as a dimension or aspect of individual, team, or organizational performance, exclusive of a critical element, that is used in assigning a summary level. If an agency chooses to use non-critical elements, team or organizational performance can be factored into employee performance plans by using non-critical elements to define goals, measure performance, and provide feedback on group performance. Agencies can also use group goals in their awards programs by recognizing and rewarding groups or teams that achieve their goals. For example, goals are established and rewarded in gainsharing and goalsharing programs. By using group goals in performance management programs, agencies emphasize the importance of effective group performance and demonstrate that improving performance is important to the organization.

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