Virtual Collaborative Goal Setting

You’ve been assigned to work on a virtual team. The team has met virtually once to get to know each other and begin to build rapport. Now it’s time to get to work.

The first order of business: Agree to and set a goal for the project.

You’ve worked on team projects before, so you know that any time you have more than two people working together you introduce complexity and a variety of perspectives. Now you are adding another factor: virtual collaboration.

Virtual collaborative goal setting is about blending perceptions, cultures, and distance to come to an agreement on the one thing…the goal of the collaboration. Follow these steps to set yourself up for a successful goal setting meeting.

Step 1: List Project Goals

Have each person state their understanding of the overall goal of the project. List these on a virtual whiteboard or share a Google doc. (a simple and free solution that can be used with your existing teleconferencing service or skype.) It is important in a virtual setting to allow each person to speak without interruption at first. This allows the less extroverted participants equal time and attention to express their views.

Step 2: Compare Statements

Review the project goal list. What is different for each? Is there a gap with any of the statements? If not, have the team create a robust goal statement including the timeline, measures, and customers (use SMART goal setting framework). Make sure each collaborator agrees with the final statement – verbally. Often the quiet team members do not speak up in group settings and you don’t want to have to change the goal later.

Most likely, however, there will be a difference in the goal statements and you’ll need to take the next step.

Step 3: Discuss and Align

In order to align to the same goal, it is important that the group participate in each of these steps, not just the facilitator.

  1. Circle the differences between each. Find keywords or phrases that may conflict with the other statements.
  2. Have each person explain their goal further, providing supporting details and perceptions from their stakeholders and functional areas. Make clarifying notes next to their statement.
  3. After all collaborators have provided support to their goal, ask if anyone wants to change their statement.

If there is still a gap, identify the specific area: Is it time related? a difference in customer focus? a difference in what is measures? Go through the three step discussion above with a specific focus on the factor that is different. Do this for each factor that differs (it may take several rounds).

Consider that the team members may be confusing their personal goals and the project goal. Clarify the difference between their personal goals (related to their career, skill development, or other motivations) and the project team goal which is directly linked to the business objectives.

If the gap is large between these various perspectives, it may be necessary to go up a level on the business’s strategic ladder. Have each collaborator identify the strategic business objective they believe the project supports. If there is a gap here, the discussion process must take place at this level first before it can move to the project goal level.

Before any collaborative effort can begin, an agreed upon goal must be identified. Whether or not you come to an agreement, the process used her sets up the collaborative environment. Congratulations! You have just completed your first virtual collaborative task as a team.