How Groups Can Set Goals to Improve Performance

Topic(s): goals, job performance, teams
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2011)
Article: The Effect of Goal Setting on Group Performance: A Meta-Analysis
Authors: A. Kleingeld, H. van Mierlo, L. Arends
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

Workplace goals are commonly used to help improve performance. And while past research has shown that goals do improve performance for individuals, a new meta-analysis (Kleingeld, van Mierlo, & Arends, 2011) confirms that goals can help groups as well.


Long ago, researchers (Locke & Latham, 1990) famously found that goals can help individual performance if the goals meet two criteria. They said that goals ideally need to be specific and difficult to reach. This became the basis of the popular goal setting theory promoted over the past two decades.

But many studies also investigated the effects of goal-setting on groups. They wanted to know if goal setting improved group performance the same way it improves individual performance. According to the new meta-analysis (or statistical combination of many past studies), group goals are not only useful, but also subject to the same criteria as individual goals: they work best when they are specific and difficult to reach. Under these circumstances, group goals will best lead to higher group performance.


Additionally, the meta-analysis looked at two types of goals that people might set while working within groups: egocentric goals or “groupcentric” goals. Egocentric goals try to maximize performance of the individual, while “groupcentric” goals aim to improve the performance of the entire group. If group members depend on each other to get work done, setting egocentric goals leads to lower group performance, while setting “groupcentric” goals leads to higher group performance. This is because egocentric goals put too much emphasis on individual performance and discourage collaboration, while “groupcentric” goals encourage team members to cooperate.


This study provides a clear path for team success: Set goals that are specific and difficult to attain. Additionally, team members should set goals which specifically relate to overall group performance, and not goals which focus on individual performance. Following this recipe will allow teams to maximize their performance potential.

Kleingeld, A., van Mierlo, H., & Arends, L. (2011). The Effect of Goal Setting on Group Performance: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(6), 1289-1304.