5 practical tipps how to set truly cooperative team goals

Sebastian Hitzler
6 min readOct 29, 2021
© Love the wind

Competition doesn’t work well between individuals in a team that depends on a sustainably good collaboration. The intention of implementing competitiveness is to make people stay fit and awake and develop new ideas to become better and better. But it often breeds mistrust and ego-culture with all its negative side-effects. To get that “creative tension” that you want I think it is best to set cooperative goals.

If you wonder how to do that in a hands-on way you should read on! The following tipps can be helpful whether you use OKRs, SMART or any other method to define goals.

Common vs. cooperative

So, what is meant by cooperative goal? In fact, cooperative goals are closely related to individual goals, just not in a competitive way. The dictionary of psychology gives a nice and crisp definition of cooperative goal structures:

“a performance setting structured in such a way that individuals can reach their goals more easily if they work with others rather than against them. When goal structures are purely cooperative, individuals can succeed only when others succeed as well.”

For your team you might want to define a common goal that is achieved in a cooperative way because individuals are not always equally motivated to pursue ‘just’ a common goal. The cooperative part makes the difference, knowing I work for you, and you work for me.

Tipp 1: Team-refined

When setting cooperative goals every single member needs to know how they can contribute and what’s in it for them. In general, it is a good practice to use the collective views and minds of your team when you define a common goal, so to say in a bottom-up approach. But, when your team receives its goals from top-down, is that a bad thing? Well, I think it depends on the intention behind the goal setting process. Is it used as an instrument of fear and pressure or an instrument of trust? In my experience many people on the working level would agree that the colleagues with a broader view on the whole organisation, the markets, competition, and the business strategy (generally referred to as “The Leadership”) should define the direction where to go.
If you as a leader have that future vision don’t hesitate to share with your team what you want to reach together with them. But don’t try to sell or impose it. Rather refine the goal together with the team.
In our coaching practice we use a technique where we ask people to describe in detail how this future state looks like after the goal is reached.

Examples of goal refinement questions

  • In what way is this goal attractive for you?
  • How can you contribute to reach the goal?
  • What is the first thing you notice after the goal is reached?
  • What will you do differently after the goal is reached?
  • How will the colleagues from the other team notice that you have reached the goal?
  • How will our clients notice that you have reached the goal?

When you ask these questions the thoughts of your colleagues will focus on solutions rather than problems. Visualizing the thoughts with sticky notes helps everyone to see what the other team members think and how they perceive the goal. Together the team builds an optimistic view on the future and sparks each other’s creativity.

Tipp 2: Behaviour-driven

When your goal is behaviour-driven your team must literally act together to achieve it. These can be small or big actions but with a concrete outcome that can be observed by one another. What I mean is, it’s not enough that everyone changes their mindset but still carries on as before. If the goal is challenging enough, it also involves behaving differently than usual and to leave the comfort zone. And if the more reluctant team members see their colleagues pushing hard towards the goal, they can’t help but join in and support.

Examples

  • Not a behaviour-driven goal: We always had the end-customer in mind when we defined requirements
  • Behaviour-driven goal: We validated at least 80% of our product ideas with real end-customers before we developed them to be market-ready.

Tipp 3: Experiential

An experiential (not experimental) goal makes the journey towards the goal an experience for your team. I realize this sounds more like a holiday ad. But hey, just think back what a learning experience in your career has really been. Sometimes those were not exactly the most pleasant or comfortable chapters of your work-life but for sure the most memorable. In the end these experiences define who you are as a business persona. As your team works cooperatively on the goal these are shared experiences which become more intense as people are talking about it to each other.

Examples

  • Not an experiential goal: We’ve sent our stakeholders a demo link after each sprint and asked them to give us their feedback via e-mail.
  • Experiential goal: We did a demo of each sprint result to our stakeholders and discussed their feedback with them.

Tipp 4: Flexible

Although it is key that your goal is very specific try to leave the team some flexibility in terms of the scope. It will lead to a stronger ownership when your team must interprete the boundaries of the goal and adjust the scope accordingly. To achieve this flexibility, I find it very effective how the OKR framework differentiates 3 aspects of the goal setting:

  • qualitative objective (e. g. Increase customer satisfaction)
    >> leaves a lot of scope-flexibility but tends to be unspecific
  • quantitative key results (e. g. minimum of 4.5-star reviews of our app)
    >> leaves flexibility to which extent key results are achieved
  • measures that drive key results and pay in on the objective (e. g. offer an additional payment option, boost the search performance)
    >> leaves flexibility for the team to define the exact measures

If you don’t feel prepared to fully implement OKRs, just pick from these aspects — I know, the OKR masters out there will crucify me for this. But I think it is more important to benefit from a scope-flexible goal than flawlessly carrying out a method.

Tipp 5: Here & Now

The goal should be defined in a way that your team can start today. No reason to wait, no excuses to be made, no more considerations to be taken, no more problems to be found that will stop you. This will help to keep the team motivated and focused because the goal matters in this moment! Ideally, right after you agreed on the goal the team starts working on it immediately. Of course, the timeframe for delivering the result should not be too long, more in the terms of a few weeks. Otherwise, the “here & now” doesn’t make sense because it doesn’t really matter if you start working on your yearly goal tomorrow or the week after — until it’s too late! 😉 If you are running for more long-term goals break them down into several “here & now” goals.

Top 5 excuses for not starting today that I don’t accept

  • Let’s discuss it again next week
  • We must take care of the daily business before we start
  • We must get the okay from CXO first
  • We must do research before we start
  • We are blocked by the XYZ team

Cooperative team goal in a Collaboration Sprint

I’m sure, once you have crafted your cooperative team goal it will unfold its power. Even more so when you initiate a Collaboration Sprint with it. The sprint provides a predictable structure with fixed timeframes and a series of targeted events that help your team to stay fully focused on their goal. To know more about it read my previous article. If you found this article interesting, please share it. Or let us know if you have questions or suggestions from your own experience. We welcome any feedback.

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