Monday, February 06, 2006

Setting Outcome Goals

We had a team meeting last week, and one of the primary purposes was to discuss our goals for the upcoming season. In the past, we have had team discussions about what each of us wants to get out of the season, but this year, I wanted to convey the sense that we were signing off, as a team, on the team goals. I think this was a positive process as we acknowledged, as a team, what we are trying to achieve(Outcome Goals), but more importantly, how we are going to get there (Process Goals). I met a few times with my captains prior to the meeting because I wanted to make sure that our goals were team driven and not imposed on the team by me.

Our Process Goals are pretty clear and the team felt very comfortable with them. It is hard to argue with a Process Goal like "Work on throwing and catching at every practice". We did have a couple of Outcome Goals that generated a lot of discussion, and I think revealed some frequent issues that teams have with goal setting. A few examples are; concerns about pressure when faced with "stretch" goals, priority of achievement over process, and being distracted by the awareness of having to achieve goals.

In 2001, I captained a team and I set out as one of our goals "Make quarters at Nationals". I felt that this was an appropriate goal for the team based on our talent and the history of Mixed teams in our Region. When we qualified for Nationals, some of the players took issue with the goal of getting to quarters. The rationale was "If we are not trying to win the tournament, why bother playing in it". This is a good example of how goal setting is difficult. I think the idea of dividing up the team goals into Process Goals and Outcome Goals really helps the team focus on what is important.

Outcome Goals focus on uncontrollable elements, and they can be used to raise the ceiling on what the team is trying to achieve. They are dependent, however, on solid and well-thought out Process Goals. A team that has only Outcome Goals (I would hazard a guess that most Ultimate teams are like this) not only puts their stock solely into uncontrollable concerns, but also has no means by which to build a foundation upon which they can achieve success. It is easy to say "The Goal of the team is to win Nationals". Any team can say this. The process of doing it is a different matter altogether.

One of the great things about dividing up your goals is that it allows you to focus on the moment. When you arrive at the big tournament, you know that you have worked hard to achieve your Process Goals and, as a result, that you are properly prepared. You are also not distracted by the pressure of achieving your Outcome Goals sometime later in the weekend because the things that you control are occuring in the present.

The result of our discussion was, I hope, an agreement upon an appropriate sets of goals. I think we have solid Process Goals that inform us on a daily basis, but also Outcome Goals that are both challenging yet reward us for enjoying the gift of trying to play good Ultimate.


Vassar said...

Just curious but did 6TM have any goals set for last year, process or outcome? Sounds like you all may not have had them and this year the goal setting has become more formal and defined. What was decided upon (feel free not to answer...)?

As someone who's been on several goal-less teams, I have found that there is nothing more frustrating than realizing you're not on the same page as your teammates. At the same time, I've been on teams that had goals that weighed down the team all year, making it hard to have fun. How's 6TM planning to keep the game fun?


gcooke said...


Actually, the team in this post is my Wellesley College team that I coach.

Having said that, though, 6TM's goals last year were to a) equal or exceed our 04 result, and b) qualify for Worlds. While I would subject folks to my sports psych babble, 6TM did not adopt separate process and outcome goals. We didn't in 04 either.

I think your frustration is exactly why I wanted Wellesley to sign off on the goals. Last year, at Regionals, we had our goal as "do the best that we can". We reached the game to go to Sunday, and as it poured rain, the team decided to pack in the tent. That is the problem, in my opinion, with vague outcome goals. As you say, not everyone is on the same page.

However, I think your point about fun is very well taken, and I do think that many times the lack of process goals is what makes things not fun....not the weight of outcome goals. If your process goals nuture improving skills, getting in shape, playing good Ultimate, etc, it is hard to not have fun while the team is improving and coming together for a defined purpose. Then, when it comes time to try to put all that work to the test and try to achieve the outcomes you want, you are faced with the real challenge: Maintaining focus in the present while being aware of what is at stake. This is a fundamental paradox of sports, and to some extent can be helped by being able to come back to the basic systems and processes that are defined by the team's Process Goals.