Some fascinating new research on the effect of goal setting on group performance was recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology (full citation below). The authors conducted a meta-analysis of 131 previously published studies on goal setting.
The results show that the worst thing you can do for group performance is to set nonspecific goals. Even easy, specific goals are better for group performance than nonspecific goals. Setting specific difficult goals has the best effect on group performance. Specific goals supported by specific metrics send employees unambiguous and consistent signals about expected performance behaviors.
The most interesting finding to me was that “egocentric goals (aimed at maximizing individual performance) undermine group performance, whereas groupcentric goals (aimed at maximizing the individual contribution to the group) enhance group performance” (p. 7). Goals that force team members to compete with each other undermine group performance. “When group performance matters, egocentric goals would best be framed as to emphasize the individual contribution to the group” (p. 8).
Select people that value collaboration over competition. Train them in the knowledge and skills they need to work better with others. Challenge your teams to set high standards for their shared performance, and reward the members that do the most to help the team succeed. Think very carefully about the message you send by rewarding individual performance when the team fails.
Full citation: Kleingeld, A., van Mierlo, H., and Arends, L. (2011). The Effect of Goal Setting on Group Performance: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology.