Business lessons from the world of sports: Process Goals

We had just lost our final game at the World Ultimate Championships, and most of my team mates were in tears. We lost by just 1 point to South Africa, placing us 14th. Our goal had been to break top 10 and losing the final game to a team we had beaten in the pool games, was extra hard.

Preparation phase

Our preparation couldn’t have been better. We had really bonded as a team over the months before the tournament. There was a high level of trust, we had fun together and the team was fit. The plays we had rehearsed for so many times were really working by the end of preparation and everybody was ready. We were going to break top 10.

The wrong goal

The mistake, I now know, was that our goal should never have been breaking top 10. Breaking top 10 in a tournament requires a lot of wins during that tournament. At the world level, all teams are good. So a win only happens if you’re better than the other team.

That’s the problem. No matter how good your team is, how well prepared you are, how many hours you spent training … the other team just might be better. Setting a goal that depends for 50% on people you have no control over whatsoever, means setting yourself up for major disappointment.

Process goals

An alternative goal setting strategy is process goals. Process goals focus on all aspects that you can control yourself. For example, executing of your game plan. Do we have the right match ups on the field? Are we using the most effective play in our books for the situation at hand? Are we executing basics like we practiced?

If your goals are formulated in a way that gets the best out of your team, instead of an absolute outcome, you are setting yourself up for huge successes. Process goals help to keep teams focused on the aspects they can control, and keeps them in the right mindset. Instead of defining success as a value, define it as the feeling that you’ve gotten the very best out of your team.

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