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Stop Setting Goals For Your Team—Do This Instead.

We all have goals at work. Lofty goals can provide your team a spark of inspiration and excitement. But when you are the one responsible for the team that needs to achieve those goals, it can be a constant source of anxiety...

“Are we working on the right things?”

“Does my team think that we’re working on the right things?”

“Will we deliver?”

Throughout my time building Hugo, I have been fortunate to learn from thousands of teams over the past few years. And I noticed a pattern. The teams that outperform with ease are teams that understand the difference between habits and goals. They leverage the concept of team habits to develop a system of behaviors that everyone can rely on and trust. It becomes something that keeps them pointed in the right direction, even when distracted by the daily grind.

"Goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress." - James Clear

Here's what team habits mean to us, a few that we have developed at Hugo, and a simple guide that you can use for your team to identify what habits they may need to develop and how to develop them.

Habits v. Goals

Imagine you wanted to lose weight. There are two ways you could approach your change. First, you could decide that you want to lose 5 pounds, or you could commit to going to the gym 3x week.

  • Losing 5 pounds = Goal
  • Committing to three days at the gym per week = habit

Goals are singular. They shift attention towards the metric, but it’s easy to become complacent once your goal is achieved.

Habits are repetitive. They focus attention on the daily/weekly/monthly actions that result in achievement.

Goals lead to a culture of cramming.

Unlike college exams, work goals can't be achieved by a sudden spike in effort the day before. Teams that engage in infrequent, yet intense spikes of effort, often suffer from burnout and fall behind the teams that operate on sustained, long-term effort.

Habits are far more dependable - they define the small actions that need to be repeated daily/weekly/monthly, to achieve meaningful progress.

Habits compound over time.

Habits keep us focused, even when distractions arise.

Here’s a few of our team habits we’ve developed at Hugo:

1. Review Dates

We all know what it feels like to work at a company where everything is ad-hoc and managers seem to make things up as they go. It's disheartening and creates a constant feeling that things are always falling through the cracks.

To combat this, every experiment that we run or decision that we make is captured in a team decision log and every decision includes a review date. We built the decision log as a Typeform, and to reinforce the habit we added weekly Slack reminders to log new decisions with a link to the form.

Another reminder will trigger before the review date, asking the decision maker to compare the actual results of the decision to the expected results and to document the learnings and next steps.

All of this is shared openly in a relevant meeting so that we socialize with the team and can plan the next iteration together.

2. Mapping Business Goals to Meetings

If a business goal isn't part of the agenda for a recurring meeting, it will 100% fall through the cracks within a couple weeks. At Hugo, meetings are like the heartbeat of our company - if they're inconsistent and weak, that is exactly how we'll perform.

Every team has their own recurring meeting, with a custom agenda that ensures team goals are reviewed - everything from metrics to active initiatives to coordination and blockers. Each time we review company goals, we make sure that they are added to the agenda for an existing meeting.

If it doesn’t fit into an existing meeting, we will create one and if we’ve hit our meeting quota then we will restructure our recurring meetings accordingly.

3.Discouraging One-Off Meetings

Context switching and bloated calendars place a ton of drag on productivity. That's why we have a goal of optimizing our communication for 90% asynchronous and 10% synchronous.

We have achieved this by developing a culture that makes it hard to book time on someone else's calendar, and encourages tools like Slack and Loom so that non-meeting, non-urgent communication can flow freely outside of meeting blocks.

The biggest driver of this habit however, is our 10% rule - individual contributors can't spend > 10% of their time in meetings.

This constraint has led to two awesome outcomes in terms of team habits. First, it’s allowed for creative forms of collaboration outside of meetings (like sharing Loom videos with colleagues). It’s also led to absolutely phenomenal meeting preparation.

When a colleague wants to discuss something with the team, they will post a Loom video or open up their calendar to find the next relevant meeting and add it to the agenda (along with necessary pre-reading) for discussing at the right time. It’s pretty awesome!

This means that there is less interruption in between meetings and that meeting agendas are super dense b/c there is clarity of purpose for all attendees.

A Framework for Identifying and Building Team Habits

Ready to ditch your goals and focus on habits? Get together with your team, consolidate a list of your top objectives, and then run each objective through this exercise:

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Here’s an example of how to apply it for something simple:

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Don’t forget to build a habit around re-running this framework from time-to-time. As your team learns over time, you’ll come up with new revisions to the way you work together.

When you shape and reinforce good team habits, everyone feels confident. They know that they have a behavioral system that ensures that their daily habits will compound each week to achieve their goals and oftentimes, surpass them.

If you're passionate about helping your team work better together, reach out to us or check out Hugo. We focus on better meetings as the first step to better team habits!

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