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  • Ruth Dettman

The Case Against Team Goals

We have an adorable puppy that has a mind of her own.

Twelve puppy training classes and we can’t figure out who isn’t picking things up quickly - her or us.

I’m telling her to sit. She stares at me expectantly with her tail wagging but ‘sit’ isn’t happening.

Frustrated, I push her bottom down onto the floor, all the while saying ‘sit’ ‘sit’ ‘sit’. We achieve the goal of sitting but nothing has been learned.

The problem with goals is that they are often too narrowly defined. The big picture is lost.

The big picture (aka the vision) for puppy training is to have a dog that responds to our commands. A worthwhile goal within that vision is for the puppy to sit. But an equally important, but less talked about goal is finding an incentive that entices our little darling to pay attention.

Having a big picture is to have helpful guideposts. Do the goals fit the vision? Are there other important goals that haven’t yet been defined or have been forgotten?

In the context of leadership, having that big picture is also critical. It’s the glue that holds and guides team goals in a shifting and evolving environment. But how many team members know the team vision?

What is a team vision?

It’s a statement about the future.

It’s optimistic.

It’s stretchy.

It’s credible.

It tells a team the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’. So when they are lost in the detail and get bogged down, they remember the why and decide whether to keep going or to pivot.

Think of it like the binding on a great book. It brings everything together and makes sense.

This is exhausting

My client was in the high potential program and placed in the organisation’s innovation and strategy team. It was a small but highly regarded team and my client was feeling a bit nervous about making a misstep.

The goals: The team was tasked with delivering a recommendation to the CEO on a strategic move. My client’s specific goals were to 1) complete in-depth research 2) draft the paper 3) get his colleague’s approval, and 4) get his boss’s approval.

The obstacle: His colleague and boss strongly disagreed with each other on what should be recommended to the CEO.

The vision: The team was clear on their vision. It was "to collaborate and offer the best possible, data-driven, advice to the CEO".

The exhaustion: My client spent a lot of time, going back and forth between his colleague and his boss to find a sliver of common ground. He felt the weight of his goals, taking his responsibility to the extreme. He also spent a lot of time and energy going over his research, making sure that he understood the problem, the options, and the recommendations. To not deliver on his goals felt like failure and he worried about that because he was new to the team.

The coaching: We talked about the bigger picture, the vision for the team. We talked about what the words ‘collaboration’ and ‘best possible’ meant to him and his work. We talked about what might be some other goals that are also relevant in the context of the team's vision.

The result: My client called a team meeting to get everything on the table. They talked about what data was important and what was possible with that data. They ended up with a strongly debated and tested recommendation that they could all get behind and deliver to the CEO.

Bind your goals together

Like the idea of vision but not sure where to start? Check out my suggestions below to see if one of them applies to you!

  1. Vision?? Every day feels a bit like chaos! Many people are in the same boat. And it doesn’t mean that the team doesn’t have a vision. Everyone’s just too busy to think about it, let alone write it down! Start with what you know to be true. What is the team achieving that is stretchy? How are they working together that makes it feel optimistic? Take an hour with the team to start talking about your perspective and hear what they have to say!

  2. Lots of goals but no vision! As a team, ask yourselves these questions: What are the themes that come through the goals? Which themes are optimistic, stretchy, and credible? What's missing that feels important? How does this all tie together into a statement of where and how you want to be in 1-2 years time?

  3. I have a vision but no one seems to know about it! Use one of your meetings to let the team wonder out loud how their job connects to the vision. If this is something that feels awkward in a team meeting, then have 1-1s with them!

If you try just one of these 3 suggestions, you are a step closer to a solid foundation for a high performing team. And who doesn’t want that?

If you're not sure where your team sits in terms of understanding your team vision, drop me an email at and let's have a chat!


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