OKRs for Teams: One Simple Framework to Help Your Team Deliver Meaningful Results

OKRs for Teams: One Simple Framework to Help Your Team Deliver Meaningful Results

January 8, 2021
Leader's Journey

In a chaotic world where everything is seemingly urgent and important, low-performing teams tend to lose sight of what’s most important and their team goals end up stale.

These teams work endlessly, burn out, and expend wasted energy on insignificant tasks that produce lackluster results. As legendary CEO of Intel, Andy Grove, once said, “There are so many people working so hard and achieving so little.

So, why does this happen?

Team members who fail to connect the dots between their daily work and the bigger picture most often miss the mark in producing meaningful results. This is because they get distracted, lose focus, and lack clarity on where their team is headed.

Fortunately, there’s a better way.

At WinShape Teams, we teach that winning teams pursue both healthy relationships and deliver desirable results. But, how do you know if your team is winning?

Winning teams clarify their purpose, establish goals, and keep score. This means you’ll need effective goal-setting tools to measure your team’s success.

If this sounds like a daunting task, believe me, you’re not alone. I distinctly remember how difficult it was to build thoughtful, effective, and sustainable team goals when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit in 2020. As a ministry, we were blindsided by several “unknown” external factors that obscured our path forward and influenced what we could or could not do.

For this very reason, my marketing team now leverages the OKR framework to structure our most important objectives and measure key results.

In this blog post, I’ll introduce you to the OKR framework, teach you how to leverage OKRs for teams, and share some examples and quick tips for success.

OKRs for Teams
What is the OKR Framework, Exactly?
What are Objectives?
What are Key Results?
What are Initiatives?
Examples of OKRs for Teams
6 Tips for Team OKR Success

OKRs for Teams

Every team should ask themselves two questions:

1) What do we want to accomplish?

2) How are we going to get there?

Depending on who you talk to, there are several different approaches you could take to answer these questions. I recommend your team leverage the OKR framework.

Here’s why:

The OKR framework provides alignment, focus, and clarity for your team. It moves your team towards bigger, more important goals rather than smaller, less important tasks. OKRs are designed to shift the focus from individualism to teamwork, which drives collective growth.

The OKR framework also improves your team’s agility, adaptability and effectiveness in the long run. OKRs code your team’s objectives into an easy-to-understand and measurable structure that is sustainable, even amidst a pandemic. 

The OKR framework is often used to align organizations, departments, and teams. For our purposes today, we’ll focus on how to leverage OKRs at the team-level

“A shared objective and quantifiable metrics can help a team to coordinate their activities, align with stakeholders, and act with more than just their own immediate goals in mind.”

Jeff Gothelf

What is the OKR Framework, Exactly?

OKR is yet another three-letter acronym that stands for Objectives and Key Results. The OKR framework is a useful, goal-setting tool that can help align your team’s strategic objectives and measure their outcomes.

OKRs have been around for some time now. They were originally conceptualized by legendary CEO of Intel, Andy Grove, back in the early 1980’s and then propagated by Venture Capitalist, John Doerr, in the early 2000’s. Over time, the proven success of OKRs have led well-known companies, including Google, Amazon, Facebook, and many more, to adopt the methodology for their own teams. 

There are two traditional components of the OKR framework:

1) Objectives – Where do we want to go?

2) Key Results – How do we know if we’re getting there?

But wait…. there’s more! Teams should also account for a third component:

3) InitiativesWhat will we do to get there?

When we bring all three components together, here’s the recipe for forming a thoughtful and effective OKR for your team:

We will ______(objective)______ as measured by ______(key results) ______ by doing ______(initiatives).

What are Objectives?

Your team objective should answer, “Where do we want to go?

Think of it like a compass for your team that will point you in the direction you want to go when busy work and distractions inevitably creep in.

For any Simon Sinek fans out there, I like to think of the OKR framework in the visual context of what he refers to as The Golden Circle. He suggests effective leaders and organizations always start with their WHY, or their purpose, to ensure success. In a similar fashion, your objectives are the WHY behind your ambitions and efforts and should be at the core of everything you do. Objectives clarify your team’s purpose. 

First and foremost, objectives are aspirational, ambitious, qualitative, and impactful. Get crazy…what’s your vision here? Dream big and don’t settle for an easy-to-accomplish objective. If you hit your objectives 100% of the time, chances are you’re not striving high enough.

Second, objectives should be incredibly simple and repeatable. Otherwise, no one will remember them. Get straight to the point…what are you wanting to achieve? What is your purpose?

Third, objectives are time-bound. What is your desired outcome 6 months from now? A year from now? Five years from now? 10 years from now? Be specific and commit to a timeframe to focus your efforts.

Jump down to Examples of OKRs for Teams to view what objectives might look like in action.

What are Key Results?

Once your team knows what direction they’re headed in, they’ll need a way to measure their progress along the way.

Key results answer, “How do we know if we’re getting there?” 

Key results are measurable, quantitative, and value-based. Most importantly, they measure your team’s success and emphasize the outcomes of the work you do. 

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, “Use OKRs to Set Goals for Teams, Not Individuals,” author Jeff Gothelf recommends that key results should be objective measures of success. In other words, they shouldn’t capture your team’s actions, but rather the actions of who you are trying to reach (aka, your target audience).

It’s generally recommended that teams set between 2-5 key results per objective.

Skip to Examples of OKRs for Teams to view what key results might look like.

What are Initiatives?

Initiatives answer, “What will we do to get there?” 

Traditionally, the OKR framework does not include initiatives; hence, the acronym, Objectives and Key Results. However, I find initiatives incredibly helpful to include in the OKR framework to organize your team’s strategic goals. If it helps your team remember, feel free to tack the “I” onto the acronym for Initiatives, OKRI. 

Initiatives are actionable, tactical, and activity-based outputs that are most likely to lead to the outcome your team is hoping to achieve. 

One distinction to keep in mind is that initiatives are not to be confused with your daily task list. Rather, initiatives are your team’s strategic activities in how you plan to positively influence the key results and achieve the objective.

It’s also worth noting that initiatives are flexible and subject to evolve during your designated goal period (annually, quarterly, etc.). In the real world, external factors, like a global pandemic (COVID-19, anyone?), may disrupt how exactly your team gets there and which initiatives make the most sense for your team to pursue, etc.

That’s why it’s crucial to have ongoing “evaluation” meetings with your team to review the conditions of your team OKRs during the stated goal period, not solely after-the-fact. By frequently monitoring your OKR status and progress, your team can make the necessary course corrections along the way to ensure success.

This is what makes OKRs sustainable! While strategic initiatives may adapt and evolve along the way, objectives will nearly always remain the same. As a result, your team will benefit from long-term clarity in direction and flexibility in how to get there.

If you need examples of initiatives, keep scrolling to Examples of OKRs for Teams.

Examples of OKRs for Teams

Now that you understand the key components of OKRs, here are a few examples of OKRs at the team-level to get your idea gears turning.

Remember, effective team OKRs should be able to clearly form this statement:

We will ______(objective)______ as measured by ______(key results) ______ by doing ______(initiatives).

Marketing Team

  • We will improve online brand presence
  • As measured by a X% increase in organic search traffic, X% increase in social following, and X% increase in earned media
  • By doing content marketing, search engine optimization, omnichannel marketing audits, influencer marketing, etc.

Sales Team

  • We will drive record revenue growth
  • As measured by a X% increase in sales, X% increase in referrals, and X% increase in CLV
  • By doing prospecting, relationship building, lead nurturing, referral incentives, customer loyalty programs, etc.

Product Team

  • We will create a world-class product
  • As measured by earning a top 10 rank in a major product review site, and winning “Best Product of the Year” award at an industry conference
  • By doing market research and development, concept design, MVP coding, beta testing, product launch, review solicitation, case studies, award submissions, etc.

Tip #1
Build outcome-focused objectives.

Objectives should emphasize what your team is hoping to achieve, not do. Focus on the outcomes instead of your team’s outputs, or activity.

Tip #2
Carve out time to build your team’s OKRs.

Set aside intentional time to reflect on where your team is today, where your team wants to be, and where your team is currently headed in the next 6-12 months. Thoughtful OKRs require time to build, revise, and qualify.

Tip #3
Frequently monitor and update your progress along the way.

OKRs don’t work if you set ‘em and forget ‘em. Many teams make the mistake of letting their goals go stale. Make a habit of frequently monitoring progress to make course corrections along the way.

Tip #4
Set no more than 2-3 OKRs at a time.

I highly recommend setting no more than three team OKRs during a given period (i.e. annually, quarterly, etc.). In my experience, less is more manageable, sustainable, and effective.

Tip #5
Collaborate with your team members.

Avoid cascading goals down if you want to ensure your team is aligned. Rather, invite your team members to come alongside you and collaborate. This way, you’ll gain more buy-in and promote true innovation by sharing ideas bottom-up, without the limitations of hierarchy or titles getting in the way.

Tip #6
Make OKRs accessible, visible, and transparent.

Accessibility, visibility, and transparency are key to managing your team’s OKRs. First, store them in a central location in the cloud for easy access, anytime and anywhere. There are a slew of dedicated OKR software solutions out there to choose from. Our team uses Asana Goals to manage and monitor our OKRs. Second, OKRs should be visible by everyone on your team. Lay eyes on these OKRs often! Many OKRs fall off the map when they’re out of sight and out of mind. Third, be open and honest with where your team is at. Don’t try to inflate your success or boost your appearance. This is the only way you can measure true success.

Need more goal inspiration?

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