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Goal Setting
Hasse Jansen, 01 Dec '16

The Secret of Self-Managing Teams: Goal-Setting

Teach your team goal setting skills to make your team truly self-managing. As a leader, take these four steps to drastically shrink your own to do list. 

Making teams self-managing can be a challenge. You’ve probably taken some measures over the years to encourage your team to self-manage, but your team still needs attention and is consuming most of your time.

As HBR puts it in their article on self-managing teams, as a leader you have to make yourself (nearly) redundant to be scalable. According to the many articles written about self-management, to make that happen in practice, you need your teams to be able to set their own goals, in line with strategy.

As a leader of self-managing teams need to create a platform for employees to explain how they “will contribute to the company’s goal” for everything they do. And you can.

This article will teach you the four steps you need to take to get your team to set their own goals, to create self-managing teams, and for leaders to free up their agenda.

Teach teams goal-setting to free up your agenda

Leading self-managing teams is different from leading any other team. Leaders of self-managing teams take great care in creating a goal-setting framework wherein their teams can flourish autonomously. They don’t tell their team what to do, but they equip and facilitate their team to enable them to set their own goals in line with strategy.

The leader creates the goal-setting framework and then leaves it to be filled out by the team in any way they think is best. Teams or individuals are free to take on any challenge or responsibility that suits their skills best every day of the week, as long as they align with company goals.

In self-managed companies leaders don’t command their team. Goal transparency guides teams towards pursuing goals that benefit the company most. This mechanism does away with power struggles that are inevitable in traditional company structures. When leaders facilitate their team to be able to set their own goals, there is no need for lengthy change management programs.

In our experience, your will need three months of weekly practice to master the skill of goal setting forever. So invest 3 months and be free forever.

It’s pretty good ROI.

4 goal-setting principles to make self-management happen

There are 4 goal-setting principles leaders of self-managing teams need to follow to go forward.

1. Set high-level goals to give direction

Contrary to popular believe, working with self-managing teams does not mean organizations don’t have high-level goals. Leaders of self-managing teams still need to communicate the corporate mission and higher-level goals to give teams something to work towards.

Every employee […] is responsible for drawing up a personal mission statement that outlines how he or she will contribute to the company’s goal of “producing tomato products and services which consistently achieve the quality and service expectations of our customers.”

Big goals give structure by drawing a framework or margin wherein teams are free to do what they think is best. The leader specifies the challenge at hand as a starting point for teams to reason back from the big goal.

Teams can decide on how to achieve the bigger goals by specifying smaller goals (and accompanying tasks), the achievement of which should bring them closer to achieving bigger goals.

This is how you do it: “How to Craft a Bottom Up Marketing Strategy”

This is what that looks like in a visual goal tree.

Boardview Tree
2. Get your team to communicate hypotheses

Another crucial requirement for leaders of self-managing teams is to be dedicated to creating a platform. That platform gives everyone involved a structured overview of what’s happening at any given time. For teams to be able to make proper, informed decisions, they need access to relevant, up to date strategic information.

The road the postcard destination painted in step 1 is bound to be particularly windy. Big goals may remain similar throughout the year, but the sub goals you pursue on a daily basis probably won’t be. 60% of senior leaders revise their goals during the course of the year.

You’ll learn that what counted as irrefutable fact one day turns out to be ‘not so irrefutable’ the next. Hurdles on the road appear seemingly out of nowhere.

Strategy execution can appear chaotic. Nobody will ever be certain about what’s the most sensible thing to do in any situation. So you have to communicate your best guess. Teams need a place to store their newly gained insights in the most orderly manner possible, so others can consider adjusting their plans based on that.

The leader needs to facilitate and breed a habit for people to be open about their strategic goals and hypotheses, and how they relate to each other.

This is how you do it: “The Genius of Goal Transparency”

3. Allow goal setting to become a market place

When teams know where they should be going and how to communicate what they’ve learned about the road that leads up to it, all the leader needs to do is… do nothing. Congrats, you made yourself redundant.

The leader does not specify how to achieve the goals. The leader instead allows the group of independent people to evolve into whichever structure it will become.

Teams will self-organize around challenges, and people will align their goals with other people’s goals. Wherever an agent thinks he can add the most value is where he’ll naturally drift. People self-select and will find places where their talents shine brightest.

Many highly influential people can exist in harmony with each other. Self-managing teams are a meritocracy. Over time, people shape their reputation and gain status based on the value they add in the pursuit of goals. But status isn’t a zero-sum game.

A fern can reach its full selfhood even when there’s a much taller tree growing next to it. Different people have different talents, and in most cases these can flourish in collaboration with each other to produce an optimal end product.

When, over time, status grows to become based on anything else than merit, however, the leader should step in. This brings us to an often overlooked but crucial fourth principle: performing maintenance to the first, second and third principle.

4. Keep self-managing teams in shape over time

When you implemented the three leadership steps above well, self-managing teams work well. But the structures themselves do require some maintenance from time to time.

Self-managing teams are inherently agile, and their leaders should be too. Building in some periodic checks to the system that facilitates self-management is a reliable way to keep things running smoothly over time. Here are 3 tips. Ask yourself…

A. Are the high-level goals still working for the team?

Although it’s the leader’s job to decide upon big goals to be pursued and to draw a playing field for the self-managing teams the beginning of the year, new insights are likely to require the leader to change one or both of those at some point before the end of the year.

When companies operate in a volatile environment, what might have seemed a ridiculous goal or way to pursue a goal at the beginning of the year may sound just about brilliant months later. The leader should make sure big goals and the breadth of sub goals reflect the perpetually changing reality, to keep self-managing teams performing at their best.

B. Do people still note goals, hypotheses and achievements properly?

We all know business can be hectic. When deadlines are closing in on you from all sides, you may be tempted to cut some corners and not log your newly gained insights or adapted goals. But the rest of the company will suffer.

To make self-managing teams work, goal transparency is key. Everyone relies on everyone else to supply them with up to date strategic knowledge to base their decisions on. It is the job of the leader of self-managing teams to safeguard a decent standard of reporting to enable self-managing teams to take informed decisions at all times.

C. Are teams still self-organizing based on merit?

Over time, dogma, heroism, power play between colleagues or plain convenience may distort the merit based status structure. Standards of operation that don’t promote the achievement of goals may go unnoticed for anyone functioning with those standards day to day. It’s easy to overlook malpractice when it’s right in front of you.

The leader of self-managing teams should keep an eye out for unfavorable habits that build up over time. He should take action to prevent or remedy of any behavior that unconsciously but structurally undermines merit based, free organization of teams.

Now you know how to lead self-managing teams in theory, it’s time to make stuff happen in practice.

It’s time to try Boardview!