Should Managers Let Their Team Members Set Their Own Goals?

How hand's on should a manager be?
How hand’s on should a manager be?
Image Credit: Orin Zebest

One of the biggest challenges that we face as managers is trying to determine just exactly how hands-on we should be with the members of our team. The problem is that there is no one solution to this problem. A great example of this dilemma comes when it’s time for an employee to set goals. As their manager, should you be using your manager skills to do this and if you do, will it result in them not trusting you?

The Problems With Goals

Managers need to understand that without clearly defined goals, team members can feel they aren’t getting enough support, especially the junior ones. It’s very similar to telling someone who’s never played tennis, “You can go pro.” There are foundational skills in tennis; there is a right way to hold the racket. Based on our manager training, we need to understand that training is not micromanaging. All too often company culture can become demoralizing when management is too hands-on. If you micromanage, it takes away from the big picture.

One thing that managers need to do is to find a way to strike a balance between autonomy and structure for team members. We often have to make a bet on people who are early in their careers. These people are just as smart as others on the team but have less experience. If you can make those bets – and set the goals to guide them – then they can really work out. Managers need to hire people who are smarter than they are – and who have experience in areas that they don’t. It is important that whoever they put on the team can work independently. That way you won’t need to teach them how to hold the racket; they will already know.

How Should Managers Set Goals For Team Members?

Managers need to let their corporate experiences influence their approach to setting goals for their team members. Managers need to find a way to strike a balance between providing clear direction and the autonomy to experiment and make mistakes. The manager should provide clarity on the “what” and the “why” – they set the goals – and then it’s up to team members to figure out how to execute them. Managers should set high-level company milestones and then let team members figure out how to get there.

As managers work with the members of their team, they need to be looking for those team members that they will be able to be trust with more autonomy. We need to understand that just because you set alignments and give directions, it doesn’t mean people can’t disagree. Your employees should disagree with you all the time. When this happens, you need to listen and adjust. We need to realize that people have different skills and potential. Some work nonstop and others just want to maintain their work-life balance, to spend more time with their family. As managers we need to accept this as being ok and we need to use team building to know every employee, what they value, and what incentives work with them.

What All Of This Means For You

The one thing that every manager wants is for the members of their team to be successful. This places us in a difficult situation. We think that we know what the people on our team should be working on. When it comes time for our team members to create goals for themselves we find ourselves having to make a difficult decision: should we allow them to make their own goals or should we make their goals for them?

Goals are very important to team members. However, managers have to be careful when providing members of their team with goals because if they do it the wrong way, there’s a very good chance that it will come across as being a form of micromanagement. Managers need to view goals as what they are: a way to guide the people on their team. Setting goals for team members is a way of placing a bet on what you think that they can accomplish. The goals that we create for our team members should tell them what and why and allow them to figure out the how. When creating goals for the team, managers need to take the time to fully understand the members of their team and how much they are going to be willing to take on.

A key part of managing any team is making sure that the people on your team know what you want them to accomplish. One way that we can communicate this to our teams is by setting goals for them. We need to take responsibility for setting these goals. When we work with our team members to create goals for them, we need to take who they are into account. The better we get at setting good goals for our team, the better performance we can expect to get out of the team.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: How many goals do you think that each team member should have?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Every manager realizes that the members of their team are one of the biggest expenses that their company has to deal with. At the same time we all realize that company culture is critical, and your team needs clear goals. You can tackle all three of these issues by conducting a well-planned company offsite that can help you excel in all three categories. A meeting like this will allow you to reset, make sure everyone is aligned, and gives the team an opportunity to connect outside of the office.