One aspect of planning that has been found to be strongly related to positive group performance is the setting of goals that the group uses to guide its work (Latham & Locke, 1991; Weldon & Weingart, 1993). Groups that set specific, difficult, and yet attainable goals (e.g., “Improve sales by 10% over the next six months”) are much more effective than groups that are given goals that are not very clear (e.g., “Let’s sell as much as we can!”). In addition, groups that set clear goals produce better attendance. Goals have been found to be even more important in determining performance than are other incentives, including rewards such as praise and money.
Setting goals appears to be effective because it increases member effort and expectations of success, because it improves cooperation and communication among the members, and because it produces better planning and more accurate monitoring of the group’s work. Specific goals may also result in increased commitment to the group (Locke & Latham, 1990; Weldon, Jehn, & Pradhan, 1991), and when the goals are successfully attained, there is a resulting feeling of accomplishment, group identity and pride, a commitment to the task, and a motivation to set even higher goals. Moreover, there is at least some evidence that it is useful to let the group choose its own goals rather than assigning goals to the group (Haslam, Wegge, & Postmes, 2009). Groups tend to select more challenging goals, and because they have set them themselves, they do not need to be convinced to accept them as appropriate. However, even assigned goals are effective as long as they are seen as legitimate and attainable (Latham, Winters, & Locke, 1994).
One potential problem associated with setting goals is that the goals may turn out to be too difficult. If the goals that are set are too high to actually be reached, or if the group perceives that they are too high even if they are not, the group may become demoralized and reduce its effort (Hinsz, 1995). Groups that are characterized by a strong social identity and a sense of group efficacy—the belief that they can accomplish the tasks given to them—have been found to perform better (Little & Madigan, 1997; Silver & Bufanio, 1996, 1997). Fortunately, over time, groups frequently adjust their goals to be attainable.