how to plan goals with trello

When a triathlon starts with the swim leg of the race, all the athletes rush into the water at once, stirring up sand and sediment until the ocean is a messy, brown version of its former clear self. Wading into the waters of goal setting as a team often feels the same way—rushed and murky.

A triathalon swim used as a metaphor for messy team goal setting processes.

While awesome for the sport, Nike’s approach might not be the best for setting team goals. Source

For some people on teams, goal setting and tracking even takes on a Bird Box-like terror. Looking into the future towards a set end point is risky (and can even feel impossible), so they grope from shoreline to shoreline, feeling for a safe space that signals their current struggle is over.

Netflix film Bird Box is like team goal setting when your team can't see the end goal.

Establishing and working towards a goal shouldn’t be like either of these two scenarios. The entire point of establishing clear objectives is to clear the way and identify markers of success that build purpose and plan for what work matters most. They should serve to motivate and focus team efforts so distractions are kept to a minimum and everyone can be allowed to contribute at their best.

Is it possible to put an end to painful, pointless goal setting exercises and time-wasting tracking requirements? We think so, and we believe it starts with three fundamental facts about how a team approaches setting goals together:

  1. Make it collaborative.

  2. Make it easy to update.

  3. Make it your own.

We don’t believe there is one prescribed way to set and track goals that’s ultimately superior to all others (that’s why we have #3!). However, these three rules are key to making it a team effort where everyone has a stake in the results and gets individual value and motivation out of following progress towards common goals.

We’ve also created a Trello workflow that you can copy and customize to easily build these principles into your next goal-setting process. So let’s explore how to set up your team to be motivated by clear, trackable goals that help you feel productive and accomplished every day.

Get Clear: What Goals Do For Your Team

Setting and tracking goals can be arduous because the activity can feel like a top-down mandate. It’s something that has to be done to show to the higher-ups that work is indeed happening. But there’s so much more to it than that!

Here are a few motivating factors to start with, so that everyone can get into the team goal-setting spirit:

  • A goal is the ultimate outcome, but following the progress towards that goal is where the real teamwork value lies. Tracking the incremental progress and achievements that come at each stage of working on a project keeps up motivation and momentum—especially when the end goal is months away. Checking off smaller goals activates the reward center in the brain and releases dopamine. When this becomes a collective experience through a shared tracking process, the whole team benefits from feeling good about progress.

  • Goals that are shared amongst the team and larger organization are the official signal for what the team is working on. They keep priorities clear, and more helpfully, can be used to set boundaries for what to say “no” to when those distracting requests come in.

  • Setting and tracking goals is an activity that makes people feel more like a team when followed on a regular basis. According to a joint research study by The Energy Project and Harvard Business Review, those who were able to effectively prioritize their work reported being 48% more engaged and 89% more likely to stay with their current team.

Build A Central Station For Goal Setting

Now it’s time to create a space where goals can be defined and put into an easy and transparent tracking tool. Copy this Team Goal Setting Central sample board to get started, and customize the following parts to fit your team’s unique needs:

Free goal setting Trello board template

Create a “Start here” or “Resources” list first to house all the goal planning documents, brainstorming notes, tips, presentations, or anything else you tend to reference frequently. Meeting schedules and answers to common questions are great things to keep here so your team is informed at all times.

Next, you’ll want to get into the goals. Each list name is the goal itself. By keeping the goal as a “title” it serves two purposes:

  1. It keeps the goal concise so that it’s easy for the team to intake and remember as a north star for future business decisions.

  2. It makes it easier to move past the end outcome, and focus instead on the process—which is represented as the cards that define each project or effort that will contribute toward reaching the goal.

How to set and track goals as a team

Each card should summarize a specific project or time-bound effort that the team is working on to reach the goal. Set a due date by when each project will be completed. The people on your team working on the project can attach other Trello boards or cards where work is happening, as well as strategy documents or presentation decks that can give execs or higher-ups the context they need.

There is also a card on each goal list that summarizes all the stakeholders involved in reaching that goal as a visual reminder of the teamwork that’s going into the entire process.

Use a Trello list to track completed goals organized by quarter.Finally, finished projects and closed goals can be placed in “Done” lists organized by quarter or other set time period, so you have a viewable history of all the great things your team has accomplished! If the board gets cluttered, you can always archive the lists. They’re never permanently deleted so you can bring them back if you need to reference anything.

Track Triumphant Team Goals

Once you have a structure for the Trello board that works for your team, you’ll want to define how the board is going to be used so that the team stays involved in updating and referring to it regularly.

Weekly updates go on each project card in the comments section, and can be easily organized in a bullet list format:

Use Trello cards to log weekly updates on team progress towards goals.

To keep the updating process from becoming a chore, goal stakeholders should rotate weekly or monthly so that tracking is a team effort. The person doing the updates can simply @ mention the next person in line on the card so they’ll know it’s their turn.

Another hurdle can be making sure that the team reads the updates and gets the benefit of celebrating those team wins. Updating each project card with a label that summarizes progress is a fast way to make the overall progress viewable at a glance.

Labels in Trello can help keep statuses in view.

You can include labels like:

  • Achieved!: Add this card to initiatives that you finish up during the quarter.

  • Planning: This indicates the project is just getting started.

  • Up Next: This can communicate that the project hasn’t started yet.

  • In Progress: This will let your team know you’re working on it!

  • On Track: Your team is on track to reach this goal.

  • At Risk: If you don’t think you can hit the goal, add this label to be transparent, and get some help!

  • Missed (for now): It’s OK to miss a goal now and then. Logging that will help your team revisit it later and try again.

Each team member can decide on how to receive the updates in the place where they read information easiest. This can be through email notifications or by watching the board to get in-app notifications on web or mobile.

Trello also has Power-Ups that integrate with other apps where your team communicates the most. For example, the Trello team pipes weekly updates into team Slack channels using the Slack Power-Up.

And that’s it! The rest should be up to you and your team. You can move lists around, designate cards for smaller components of projects or break them out by type of work. As long as your team is working on the goals together, keeping progress transparent and up-to-date, and feeling like the process is helping them be more productive, then your goals will be giving your team great results!

To get a copy of our goal-setting workflow, and for more productive workflows to help your team work better together, check out our new (and free) Trello Team Toolkit:

Next: Introducing The Trello Team Toolkit: Celebrate Your Team’s Productivity

3 ways to approach goal setting as a team (and actually enjoy the process)