Team objectives and fast feedback: a better way to improve individual performance

I once worked with a team who each had individual performance objectives set with HR, and team objectives set by their manager, but their stakeholders judged them by what they delivered. They reported on long-standing KPI’s for their products but no one could remember who had set them and they weren’t used for decision-making. No one measured any outcomes.

Unsurprisingly, they didn’t know which measures mattered or how to be successful.

This isn’t an uncommon story. People often have multiple ways of being evaluated at work, and they often lack any kind of connectedness or coherence, and sometimes even conflict with each other. Once a year, managers take a guess at what an individual might be able to achieve over the next twelve months and set objectives accordingly.

There are better ways.

Let’s start by doing away with individual performance objectives.

Let individuals focus their efforts on achieving their team’s objectives. Individuals succeed when the team succeeds. However much an individual contributes to the team’s success, they can’t succeed unless the team does.

And… here’s the magic ingredient that helps the individual improve their performance faster than a manager with annual objectives: the team provides fast feedback that helps the individual course correct to meet the team’s expectations at that time and as they change.

If the individual gets and responds to fast feedback from the team, they have the maximum opportunity to improve. The feedback is humble, because the team understands the circumstances, helpful, because the team wants to the individual to succeed, and immediate, because everyone works together everyday. There is no need for measurement as a separate activity to inform and justify improvement. No need for quarterly or annual performance reviews that are distant from the work.

The role of the manager becomes one of coaching the individual to respond positively to the feedback, to use it to shape their behaviours towards what the team needs from them. Feedback from the team also helps individuals identify skills gaps in a way that individuals can’t for themselves, and which managers can help them to improve on. As they improve, so the team has a better chance of succeeding.

Team needs psychological safety to be able to give each other fast feedback in this way. But team’s need that anyway. And being able to give and receive feedback from each other helps to build psychological safety, so the two grow together.

If the team is the unit of delivery then it’s also the measure of success and the source of improvement.