In soccer, the objective is to get the ball in the goal, a big white rectangle standing prominently at the end of the field, obvious and highly visible. As the coach of my son’s soccer team, I made sure everyone was clear.  We talked about kicking goals. We practiced kicking goals. We talked about kicking around the goalkeeper.  We were ready!

In organizations, there’s a mission and/or value statement along with major annual and quarterly goals used as a barometer for goal-setting.  These are usually posted on walls, letters, signs, screen backgrounds, webpages, etc. – obvious to the employees. Easy as pie! The mission, values, and major goals are communicated in emails, speeches, posters, etc. No excuses for not knowing. Everybody’s supposed to be clear. Pie…right? Wrong.

When goal-setting doesn’t work.

Well, game time and the whistle blows. The players begin running in a mob around the ball. They steal from their teammates, kids are falling, looking confused, disengaging and getting upset. Parents are yelling from the sideline. The other team is stealing the ball and scoring with ease. We’re not even close to our goal!  It’s chaos!  Sound familiar? Think about it next time you’re watching the news or observing your own organization. There’s many stories of failure to meet goals.  Employees are frustrated, disengaged and leaving. Stock holders are selling. Customers are shopping elsewhere.  In schools, parents are mad and kids are failing.

What happened? The goal is clear!

In the case of our team, kick the ball in the goal and score points.  In business it’s something like increase sales 20% or reduce injuries 10%.  In schools it something like 98% passing on the standard test or reduce dropout rates 5%. Why can’t we just do it?  Grrrr!

Consider the following lessons learned from that soccer game of doom:

  1. High level goals made visible and well communicated are only a start.

    Our soccer success depended on forwards starting the right locations, passing at the right time, and controlling the ball. We also needed midfielders in the right position to cutoff breakaway advances from the other team.  On kickoffs, throw-ins, and goal kicks there were specific positions to be played with specific roles.  The problem was everybody was focused on the one main objective, scoring a goal.  We hadn’t defined specific supporting goals of defending, passing and working to get open.

    Consider your organization.
    •  Is everyone independently driving to a major company-wide goal or do they clearly understand their role on the team and the smaller goals in support of the big goal?
    •  Are employees’ individual development goals built on their positions and strengths?
    •  Are all goals aligned to support achievement of the overall goal?

  1. Not everybody wants the ball.

    Our team had several kids that were naturally bigger and faster. First instinct was to put them as forwards and give them the ball. Seemed like a great plan. Fast kids = fast ball movement = goals!  Well, not so much. Turns out one of the fastest kids loves to run but doesn’t have good ball control and really doesn’t like driving down field. His true strength and passion is using his speed to cutoff the other team. I should have put him as mid-fielder and encouraged his passion for defense. His speed would have been perfect to prevent some of the many goals scored by the other team and he’d have been much more engaged with his role aligned with his talents.

    In organizations it’s easy to assume a certain employee wants to be promoted or wants the next level of responsibility. Simply placing them or pushing them into a role can backfire leading to all sorts of pain up to and including termination. Do you truly know what your team members want to do and how they can best contribute? Are you having these conversations regularly?

  1. Hard to be a team if I don’t even know everyone.

    You would think after 4 practices each person on the team of a whopping 9 people would know each other’s name. Not so much.  As I watched in the game, I couldn’t believe half the team couldn’t even call out the names of their teammates to get their attention for a pass! Yet another reason they weren’t working as a team. They didn’t even know each other aside from the color of their jerseys. Ugh!

    A common frustration of teams and leaders is the lack of communication and feeling of silos in the organization.
    •  Could it be because teams barely know each other?
    •  Do they only interact periodically at company picnics or the school wide assembly in which they set together in their silos anyway?
    •  When is the last time you as a leader actually spent more than 5 minutes with each of your team members?
    •  If your business has multiple locations, does the buyer at location A ever talk with the buyer at location B to compare and learn? Odds are that interaction will never happen if you don’t make those connections a priority.

Game two for our soccer team is this weekend, and I’m sure I’ll learn more. Hopefully the lessons won’t be as painful!  I’ll leave you with this thought.

There are lessons to learn all around us. There are also tools and resources for solutions to take action on those lessons. Be open to always learning and improving. Know thyself, Know thy team, and NEVER stop learning!


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