Know your Goal Orientation and Use it to Improve your Teamwork Skills

We’ve all been there. Teamwork, ugh. In the workplace, at school or anywhere else, working in groups or teams is inevitable. One of the main characteristics of group work is the confrontations between different types of people. Imagine that you’ve been placed in a group with the following types: Ben, who is super competent, dives deep into the material and works well with complex tasks. Elizabeth, who takes control and needs to display her skills and be acknowledged for them. Harry, who tends to hide behind others and gets very nervous when he’s put on the spot. Whats on the line here is goal orientation.

Any of these types sound familiar? Since the 1990’s work- and organizational psychology has tried to expand on our classic understanding of personalities by looking into goal orientation types. They tell us which goal preferences we have when we’re asked to perform. Are we genuinely looking to learn more about the given topic, or do we just want to appear competent?

Generally speaking, there are two types: the learning and the performing goal orientation types, also known as mastery vs performance. Within the performing type, we distinguish between prove performance and avoid performance types. But how do our goal orientation types show?

With a good and healthy feedback culture your team and you will get further. Read more about feedback here at Feedwork.

Performing goal orientation or Mastery goal orientation – Who’s what?

Ben is an example of someone with a learning goal: he believes that success is achieved by developing his skills and learning more. He often does well at work, especially with dynamic tasks that demand new skills to be learned and projects that span over a long time.

Elizabeth is, contrary to Ben, more concerned with appearing to be performing well, which makes her a performance goal type. Elizabeth is also interested in having certain skills, but these are largely focused on a superficial display of skills rather than actual improvement, which makes her the prove performance type. She works best in simple, static and short-term projects.

Last but not least we have Harry, who, much like Elizabeth, worries about appearances, but with a fundamental fear of others disliking him. His main focus is on his performances, which is why he’s also the performance goal type, but his fear of negative evaluation places him in the avoid category. Harry doesn’t believe in himself and therefore has very low goals.


Is constructive feedback good or bad?

You may now be considering yourself, but also colleagues, classmates or friends as fitting into one of the three types. When you’re working with others to achieve a common goal, it’s necessary that you all contribute in the best way possible, but how do the different types react to constructive feedback? VandeWalle, Cron and Slocum decided to investigate this in a study in 2001.

People like Ben love constructive feedback. He uses it to improve his performance, and it helps him focus on completing the task. Thus, Ben’s performance improves upon receiving constructive feedback.

However, constructive feedback makes people like Elizabeth focus less on the task and more on themselves, as they usually don’t have great faith in their own skills. Her performance will be more or less the same after receiving constructive feedback because she still wants to appear high performing.

Just like Elizabeth, Harry doesn’t have faith in himself and his skills, and he perceives constructive feedback as a very negative thing, as he usually aims to go under the radar. Harry thus perceives constructive feedback as judgmental and threatening, and this will impair his performance.


Don’t give Elizabeth the complex tasks

So how do we use this information? Most of us could easily mention people in our social circles who fit into the three types, but we can actually use this information to learn more about who we are and how we behave in teamwork situations. Furthermore, it can be helpful to know people’s goal orientation types when dividing up the workload.

Elizabeth would not thrive with a complex task with a long timeframe. She should have several short term and relatively simple tasks, and feedback should be given carefully for her to thrive in the workplace. Ben should be given the complex tasks and will naturally ask for feedback from others, while Harry needs to be able to stay out of the spotlight with simple tasks that don’t demand too much feedback.

But if you’re left feeling a bit disappointed that you identify more as an Elizabeth or a Harry, but would actually rather be more like Ben, there’s still hope. Even though goal orientation types are relatively stable in the same way our personalities are, self-awareness always fosters development. If you want to perform well in your work life, focus on learning as much as possible and improving your skills along the way.

Aside from this, try to ask for feedback regularly – and remember that feedback is both positive and constructive, so seek out the positive kind as well. Don’t just ask for feedback but notice the way you give feedback to others and try to make it a positive experience for everyone involved. In the long run, types like Ben are more likely to be more successful in their careers.


If you want to know more about goal orientation types and how they relate to feedback, read more here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *