Project Practitioners > Stretch Your Team to Achieve More

Stretch Your Team to Achieve More

By Jeff Richardson

A recently trending Harvard Business Review article talked about the challenges involved with setting 'stretch goals'. They claims that in environemnts with poor leadership, teams can often be demotivated fostering unethical behavior and increased risk taking On the upside, the study pointed out that challenging goals can also have the potential to stimulate innovative thinking, process improvements and added incentives that assist a team achieve what was "seemingly impossible". 

Team goalI see both of these patterns consistently emerge during experiential activities that I include in my leadership and team effectiveness workshops. Given a timed activity, teams routinely set very safe goals to start with that don't put much stress on the group to perform. Comfortable is the brain's default choice. Of course the teams ALWAYS exceed this time. So I challenge them to cut the time in HALF. Some individuals disengage because they think it's impossible, blinded by the assumptions that hide new solutions. Then someone shouts out an idea that transforms the thinking of the group. Energy is immediately injected into the system like a jolt of adrenaline. After successfully attaining this new goal the team is beaming. Until I raise the challenge to go for the world record. This aggressive goal doesn't seem to intimidate groups at this stage of the game because they've experienced success together. The small wins along the way combined with the knowledge that "someone else achieved this goal" sets the group on a deeper quest to challenge their assumptions, rework their approach and eventually solve the challenge.

Reflecting back on the experience, everyone agrees that the goal attained was "impossible" given their mindset at the beginning. Yet they achieved it. Hundreds of experiments end with the same realization - our thinking is the only limitation to achieving our goals. Every team, regardless of diversity, cultural background, or even time spent together goes through the same stages of learning how to embrace stretch goals.

What's the secret to setting stretch goals?

  • Stretch goalsKeep private (if possible) - challenge your team to do a little bit better without the added pressure of executive expectation. This strategy is often called "under promise and over deliver".
  • Use to plan - develop a plan to meet stretch goal so you know the pace to maintain. Missing your stretch goal by a little bit still allows you to exceed expectations.
  • Test assumptions - explore understanding of requirements with the team to unlock creative ways to fulfill essential elements of the project in less time, lower cost or with fewer resources.
  • Focus on the next step - since the brain gets overwhelmed with the complexity of long term goals, shift the focus small, challenging short term goals to build "yes we can" momentum and watch confidence grow 

Building the belief of team members that anything is possible is the underlying objective of setting stretch goals. This powerful mindset unlocks creativity in the brain and allows for synergy to develop among members. Start challenging your team to think differently , give them the space to try out new ideas, recognize incremental improvements and reward results. And watch how project success reinforces a team culture knows that NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE.



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