Helping athletes buy-in to their team's goals

How I designed a workshop to help team leaders define season goals.

UX Research

| Posted February 17, 2020

During the day I am a product designer, but after work and most weekends you can find me coaching high school and college Ultimate Frisbee players. Often my day job skills help inform my thought process around feedback, practice planning and skill development but rarely crosses over. Recently I was tasked with leading a goal setting meeting for the college team I coach. This seemed like the perfect crossover of the Venn diagram in my life of coaching and design and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

The left circle says Product Design and the right says Ultimate Frisbee. The middle of the Venn Diagram is a star.
The happy place of this workshop.

At work I’ve been helping design and facilitate UX workshops for our products. These workshops have created consensus on product direction and generated ideas for pushing the products forward. Often when advocating for these meetings I have used words like “buy-in”, “general understanding” and “teamwork.” Coincidentally, these are the same outcomes I aimed to achieve from the team goal setting meeting. Seeing an opportunity to formally bring my worlds together, I designed and facilitated a workshop to ideate and define goals and foster team commitment to achieving those goals.

While I didn’t intentionally follow this outline, Nielsen Norman Group’s Planning Effective UX Workshop Agendas prescribes the framework I used to create my workshop:

  • Goals – Define the desired outcome or results
  • Questions – Decide what questions will get you to that goal
  • Processes – Plan the activities

Step 1: Defining the workshop goals

Team goals

It seems redundant to set goals for a workshop that is about defining goals, but it has to be done. While playing Ultimate my captains and coaches have always emphasized two categories of goals: process goals and outcome goals. Outcome goals are what we are hoping to achieve. Process goals help the team understand what we are committing to do to help achieve our outcome goals. Through the workshop I wanted to generate ideas and develop consensus and agreement on our team’s process and outcome goals.

Individual goals

While team goals are important, as a coach I always hope every player feels empowered and supported. I defined two types of goals for the individual: skill development goals and team mindset goals. First, I wanted to understand what each individual’s performance goals are so that as a coach I can help them succeed. Second, I wanted each player to leave feeling that they can achieve, are bought in on and are excited about the team goals. Success for strengthening each player’s team mindset would not be tangible but would be the most important in helping the team move forward.

Step 2: Questions to answer

With an understanding of what the outcomes would be for the meeting, I created a list of questions. These would help craft the activities and what I would be asking the participants to ideate on or create consensus around.

Team questions

  1. Who will we be? How do we want to be described?
  2. What will we do? What are we hoping to accomplish by the end of the season?
  3. What will help us achieve this?
  4. What do we feel comfortable committing to?

Individual questions

  1. What are your goals for on-field performance?
  2. What do you want to improve at this season?
  3. How can the coaches best support you?

Step 3: Planning the activities

Team outcome goals

With the workshop goals defined and a list of questions to answer the actual workshop came together pretty quickly.

The left circle says A diagram explain the next steps of outcome goals, process goals and individual goals.
The next steps.

In a recent UX workshop I had been helping create product vision statements. This felt like the perfect time to create a team vision statement to define our outcome goals. Using a Mad Lib style of filling in a statement, I wrote a team vision statement framework. The framework answered the first and second team questions: who we will be and what we will do.

We will be a _______ (adjectives) team that will ________ (outcome goals).

The activities I designed to define outcome goals and complete this statement were:

Outcome ideation

  1. Have the group brainstorm adjectives and outcome goals that could go in the blanks.
  2. Write down every answer for each blank above the space.

Outcome agreement

  1. Confirm with the players that this is the list to discuss, this is the last chance to add or remove anything on the board.
  2. Have each player vote for their top two of each.
  3. Erase any with zero votes and discuss if we want to keep the options with low votes.
  4. Once the adjectives and goals are narrowed down to 2-4, ask players to formally agree on the statement.
  5. Discuss more if the players are not agreed. Once everyone is comfortable commiting to these statements, formally fill it in.

Team process goals

Next, I answered the third and fourth team questions, what will help us achieve our goals and what are we comfortable committing to, by defining process goals. The activities encouraged team buy-in by asking each individual to formally commit to each goal.

The activities I designed to define process goals were:

Process ideation

  1. In groups of 4 have each group write down five process goals to help us get to our outcome goals. These should be realistic, don’t write it down if you won’t do it.
  2. Have each group pick a person and share their process goals.
  3. Write every process goal on the board.

Process agreement

  1. Review the list on the board and discuss if any are redundant or should be rewritten.
  2. Have participants close their eyes.
  3. Reading each goal outloud, have the players raise their hand if they are willing to commit to the goal. If there is over 80% raising their hands, coaches will hold the team accountable for the goal.
  4. Erase any goals that do not have buy-in.
  5. Have players open their eyes and review the goals we have committed to as a team.

Individual goals

Finally, as a coach, I wanted to learn more about each player’s individual goals. With the other two activities focusing on team collaboration, ideation and consensus, this was a much more personal activity. So, I created a worksheet for each individual to fill out that explicitly asked the questions we needed answered. These were collected by coaches afterwards so that we could read through them and use them for practice planning.

Step 4: Working towards our goals

Leaving the workshop I was confident that the team was committed to our goals, understood how we would get there and felt empowered in what they could do as an individual. Also, as a coach, I had a better understanding of what I needed to do to help the team improve and succeed. The players’ questions at the end, asking for documentation of our goals and how they would be enforced, were a sign that they felt accountable for these outcomes and wanted to work towards them.

As we continue through the season I plan to ensure they keep working towards their outcome goals by enforcing the different process goals they have commited to. I also plan to meet with each player half-way through the season to check-in on their personal development and see if there is anything else we can be doing as coaches.

I am excited to see where this team will go and will be on the lookout for more ways to bring in design thinking to help shape and improve the program. If you host a workshop like this with a team you coach or lead let me know how it goes!