Blog · May 31, 2019

Why Every Team Needs a Shared Goal

The key to getting the best performance out of your team is to define a clear ambitious goal and work together towards it. Every team needs a shared goal.

In this article we will focus on the first of our Performance Principles, focus on what’s most important. At some point most people have had the displeasure of working in a dysfunctional team. But what is it that makes a team… well, not just functional, but high performing?

A shared ambitious goal

Simon Sinek speaks passionately about how teams need a just cause to fight for. If a team has a shared aspirational goal they are all working towards, they have something that unites and drives them as a group. When that’s clearly defined and they understand how their roles actively contribute to it, they are empowered to prioritise and flex what they do to achieve it.

Andrew Winston, author of The Big Pivot, notes that big companies are starting to take on greater, and more ambitious goals. These goals aren’t just about maximising shareholder value or becoming a market leader. They are about making a meaningful difference by addressing wider challenges in society. It may be as simple as improving the lives of their clients, operating in an ethical or sustainable way, or contributing to society as a whole.

Nissan’s “Vision Zero” is a clear example of this. Their aim is to become both an industry leader in zero-emissions vehicles and the first company to achieve zero fatalities or serious injuries for incidents involving their vehicles. This is a bold aim, one that has the power to inspire and unite their workforce, whilst driving Nissan in the direction they want to go. At Will It Make The Boat Go Faster, we would call this a ‘Crazy’ goal.

A ‘Crazy’ goal is aspirational, emotional and stretching, it unites everyone in an organisation with a common purpose and energises individuals and teams.

Other examples of ‘Crazy’ goals include:

  • Coca-Cola looking to replenish 100% of the water they use in making their products by 2020
  • Unilever aim to halve their environmental impact, improving the health and well-being of 1 billion people, and enhancing the livelihoods of millions.

The commonality between these goals are that they unite their teams behind a Just Cause, in the way that Sinek describes, while pivoting the business direction, as Winston proposes.

As Sinek aptly puts it- “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion”- the starting point for any business needs to be a shared goal which motivates your people.

It’s all very well having a ‘Crazy’ Goal, but unless people buy into it, it doesn’t mean anything.

In order to turn a ‘Crazy’ goal into reality, a team needs to be able to road-map how every role throughout the organisation contributes to their higher purpose.

Joe Robles, ex-army major general and former CEO of United States Automobile Association (USAA), describes how a leader’s most important job is “to connect people to their purpose”. At USAA he explains how company leaders dedicate themselves to supporting the business purpose, by weaving it into on-boarding, training, meetings and culture building. From orientation, USAA places emphasis on a cultural orientation where new starters learn the importance of the company’s vision and how their role actively drives the purpose of the business. By concentrating on how roles and responsibilities feed into the goal and evaluating how they could be most effective developing in their roles, this both developed and up-skilled their employees while increasing engagement to their overarching vision.

Quinn and Thakor reinforce this suggesting mid-level managers need to operate as purpose-driven leaders and connect their teams on a personal level to their higher purpose. A good example of this is the change in Big Four accounting firm KPMG. After interviewing hundreds of employees, they realised their purpose as a business centred around helping clients “inspire confidence and empower change”. Instead of using this as a marketing slogan, they set about connecting their leaders and managers to the purpose. For mid-level managers, they began an intensive training programme to enable them to tell compelling stories so they could convey how their personal identities and professional purpose as a team related to the ‘Crazy’ goal.

Their challenge then became connecting wider teams to the ‘Crazy’ goal. KPMG asked their workforce to come up with “10,000 stories” that connect them with their vision. Each participating employee was challenged to produce a poster to describe what they do, capturing their passion and connecting to the organisation’s purpose, and in return would receive 2 days holiday. By their Thanksgiving deadline they had received 42,000 posters.

The leadership team began receiving poster submissions with goal-driven headlines like “I combat terrorism” from someone working in anti-money laundering, fraud and financial crime. Each poster carried the tagline link of “inspire confidence and empower change”. In doing so, KPMG managed to connect individuals on a personal level to their collective purpose. In the transformation that followed, surveys showed employees pride in their work and engagement scores hit record levels. At the time, the company climbed 31 places to reach number 12 on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list. Staff turnover decreased, recruitment improved, and costs accordingly dropped.

At US based not-for-profit The Mission Continues, which helps war veterans to reintegrate into society, they put emphasis on learning and development of staff by giving them responsibility from the start. Leaders intensively support new-starters during this period to help them understand how their work relates to the higher vision. In the military “Commander’s Intent” is the description of how a successful mission conclusion should look, but does not prescribe exactly how to get there. Battlefields are unpredictable and chaotic so Commanders Intent empowers subordinate soldiers to use their initiative and adapt to changing environments. In the same way leaders at The Mission Continues are taught to internalise the company’s strategic purpose. In doing so, they take on the purpose for themselves. The employee starts to take individual responsibility and ownership over how they contribute to the company’s purpose. Their everyday decision-making can then be prioritised against what will best drive progress towards this. At Will It Make The Boat Go Faster we call this the Everyday Layer. This is the methods or processes needed to achieve the “Crazy” goal, down to the detail of the individual’s to do list.

Once you have buy-in and can link individual’s everyday roles and responsibilities to the ‘Crazy’ goal, as KPMG did with their 10,000 stories, this enables employees to prioritise their own actions and work passionately towards it. By connecting the Everyday Layer to the ‘Crazy’ goal, not only are individuals bought in to achieving it, but it becomes grounded and achievable.

At Will It Make The Boat Go Faster we believe every team needs a shared goal. Our ‘Crazy’ Goal Programme was developed to help companies define their own ‘Crazy’ goal and embed it throughout the entire organisation. It’s not a marketing slogan or catchphrase, it’s a statement of intent that helps leaders to inspire their managers, and managers to motivate their teams to achieve what they never thought was possible.

In our next article we’ll cover why, ironically, focusing on your performance, rather than results, will take you closer to the results you desire.

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