Setting effective OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) is critical to driving organizational success and aligning teams around a common vision. This comprehensive guide delves into the intricacies of running a productive OKR goal-setting workshop, from understanding its core purpose to the meticulous details of preparation and execution. Whether you're a seasoned leader, an OKR Coach or a team member eager to contribute, this workshop blueprint will equip you with the tools and insights to chart a clear path forward for your organization.
The Goal of the OKR Goal Setting Workshop
Team OKRs: The goal of the OKR Drafting Workshop is to have a set of OKRs that were set and agreed upon by the team and especially the members of the team that will be working on them. The goals are in many cases still in a “draft” state at the end of the workshop and ﬁnalized before the Kick Off.
Vertical Alignment: In order to design an effective overall goal ecosystem, teams should be aware of how their OKR set contributes to overarching organizational goals). Many teams document and share information on necessary resources and request collaboration with other teams.
The ﬁnal steps to ensure alignment across the whole organization will be taken in the alignment workshop, where interdependencies and potential resource conﬂicts will be addressed.
Organizational Aspects of the OKR Goal Setting Workshop
By paying close attention to the organizational aspects of the workshop, you'll set the stage for a productive and engaging workshop. It ensures that the right people are in the room, that the environment is conducive to creativity and collaboration, and that there's enough time to cover all the topics thoroughly.
- Team Members: The workshop should include all team members who are responsible and accountable for achieving the defined OKR set. This often means involving cross-functional teams to ensure a holistic approach.
- OKR Coach: An OKR Coach plays a crucial role in the workshop, acting as a moderator. Their expertise ensures the workshop stays on track and that the objectives set are both ambitious and achievable.
2. Workshop Setting
- In-Person Setting: Opt for a creative workshop environment equipped with standard workshop materials. This includes sticky notes, pens, whiteboards, and other essentials that facilitate brainstorming and collaboration.
- Remote Session: For teams that aren't co-located, a remote session is equally effective. Utilize a video call tool for face-to-face interaction, and digital whiteboard tools like MIRO. Platforms like Workpath can also be beneficial for tracking and managing OKRs.
The workshop should span approximately 3-4 hours. This duration is optimal for an in-person workshop with a team of 5-10 members. The same timeframe applies for remote sessions, ensuring that teams, regardless of their location, have ample time to discuss, define, and refine their OKRs.
Preparation of the OKR Goal Setting Workshop
Organizational Priorities or Company OKRs
Usually, the leadership team has already drafted OKRs on an organizational level. Ideally, they have been deduced from long-term strategic artifacts. These artifacts vary in the duration of their relevance and thereby how ﬁxed and sustainable they are.
1. Your Organization’s North Stars - E.g.: Purpose, Mission, Vision
These strategic artifacts deﬁne the core of your company and could be considered its “DNA”. They rarely change and are the basis of your strategic framework and work.
2. Strategic Guardrails - E.g.: Porter’s 5 Forces, Product Opportunity Scoring, Hedgehog concept
Semi-ﬁxed strategic concepts that only change if a profound change in strategy is aspired
3. Long-term Goals - E.g.: Strategic Swimlanes, annual OKRs, annual strategic goals
Strategic goals that provide a sense of direction for several years
Based on these strategic artifacts, more immediate desired outcomes for the next cycles can be brainstormed. Here also output and input might be listed but then reformulated as outcomes. All you need to ask yourself is: “What should the impact of this project/input on the customer be? What value can it provide? Which problems can it solve?” From these clustered priorities, OKRs on an organization or company level can be formulated.
Organizational or company OKRs often follow this pattern: each OKR covers one of the key stakeholder groups. This means one OKR focusses on creating value for shareholders, one for customers, one for employees and often one is focused on sustainability and the environment or on operational topics to “run the business”.
Checklist to Prepare the Session
Here's a checklist to guide both the OKR Coach and every team member in their preparations:
1. OKR Coach
- Set the Date: Send out drafting workshop dates at least one cycle in advance to ensure everyone can make it.
- Share the Guide: Distribute this guide and information on the necessary preparation to participants 2-3 weeks before the workshop.
- Send Reminders: A quick reminder 1 week before the workshop can help ensure everyone is on track.
- Prepare the Environment: Whether it's an in-person session or a remote one, ensure the workshop room is ready or digital tools are set up and accessible.
2. Every Team Member
- Get Acquainted: Read this guide thoroughly to understand the workshop's objectives and flow.
- Review Organizational Priorities: Familiarize yourself with organizational priorities and strategic north stars.
- Understand Your Unit's Priorities: Review the strategic priorities of your unit, using the first section of the OKR Team Canvas as guidance.
- Draft Priorities: Prepare a draft list of priorities for the next cycle to bring to the workshop.
The OKR Goal Setting Workshop Agenda
Navigating the OKR Goal Setting Workshop requires a clear and structured agenda to ensure every aspect of the process is covered comprehensively. While everyone can find their own unique way of drafting OKRs as a team, this particular approach has proven itself numerous times. From collecting priorities to refining OKRs, this agenda serves as a roadmap to a successful and productive workshop.
1. Collect priorities for the next cycle (20min)
Based on the organization’s strategic guidance and on their own ideas and needs, every participant has prepared a list of priorities they want to work on with their colleagues. Alternatively you could further brainstorm priorities together
Everyone collects their priorities on sticky notes and puts it on the categorization matrix on the 2. Section of the Team OKR Canvas. The goal is to categorize them as either Input, Output or Outcome and determine their relevance.
When drafting goals on the organization level, the most important metrics and strategic plans should be the basis for your OKRs.
- What are our top priorities for the next cycle?
- What has to be achieved?
In your team, you can also brieﬂy go through the company OKRs together. Mark the Key Results which you can and think you should support as a team in the upcoming cycle.
This will help you to;
- frame and screen your ideas and
- identify undiscovered opportunities to support the organization.
- When brainstorming priorities we advise to ﬁrst do a round of silent brainstorming, where everyone needs to give their input on a post-it or virtually and everyone makes it visible at the same time. This avoids an anchoring bias, according to which the ﬁrst input shared often sets the tone and inﬂuences the topics being put forward after that.
- Encourage everyone to share all of their thoughts. No matter whether it is tasks, projects or actual outcomes, collect all of them in order to get the full picture. Remember yourself and the team members that it is not about setting personal priorities but about creating value for your customers and company. It is always helpful to have a look at the previous cycles and company OKRs to get an overview and remember the learnings you made in the last cycle’s review.
2. Cluster and identify patterns in the team’s priorities (20min)
In a second step, you can now
- let everyone read aloud and explain their items,
- while taking away duplicates
- and rearranging the priorities in topical clusters.
In this early phase of the workshop it is okay if your goals are only roughly verbalized as topics or keywords.
- Where do you see topical clusters?
- Can we remove similar items that address the same topic to create a better overview?
Examples for typical clusters are:
- Operational Goals (crucial deliverables, actively contributing to the company’s operations) Financial Goals (targeting ﬁnancial metrics, often focused on efﬁciency) Product/Technology Goals (related to product innovations and developments)
- Leadership Goals (enhancing mentorship and leadership abilities)
- People & Culture Goals (What you can do to play a role in the development of your company culture)
- Personal Development Goals (speciﬁcally related to self improvement, may be kept private)
Afterwards, teams usually have an open discussion to assess the priorities and vote on the 3-5 most important topics for the next cycle.
While this set of priorities is not yet formulated as Objectives, make sure everyone understands the goal. Once you have agreed on the 3-5 most important priorities, take a short break.
When it comes to any type of voting the ﬁrst vote always sets a certain bias for the other participants to vote for the same thing. This is why everyone should choose their picks before the open voting e.g. with dot-voting. Then everyone should put down their votes at the same time.
3. Deﬁne headlines for each cluster (10min)
While the previous step was an open discussion with the entire team, it is now important to go into smaller groups of 2-3 people per cluster in order to iterate efﬁciently. Usually your colleagues will have a preference which cluster to work on. Within the next few steps, one OKR for each cluster will be drafted by the sub-teams.
- What is a good summary for the items addressed in your cluster?
- Does everyone understand your headline?
- Do you see items in other clusters that could also be part of yours?
4. Discuss and differentiate input, output & outcome (10min)
Let the teams discuss every item and differentiate between
- input (work to do, projects to invest time in)
- output (products that result from project activities)
- and outcome (actual value-oriented results).
This discussion usually shows that there is a mix of the three categories. By differentiating between the categories, we can then learn what is missing on the outcome level and should be described as such based on the ideas from the team.
- Is this a task/to-do/project or is it an outcome already?
- What is the outcome you want to achieve with the respective input item?
5. Transform headlines into Objectives (30min)
In this step, you will use the information gathered so far to get started with the actual OKR drafting.
- In the ﬁrst 20 minutes, each group uses a version of the (Team) OKR Drafting Canvas to formulate the Objective and then the Key Result
- Then the team should use the Objective Quality Checklist or other OKR Quality Tools to check if the OKR meets the main criteria for about 5 min. Make sure it is easy to understand and motivates you by describing a desirable state in the future that you can create.
- In the last 5 minutes of this phase, every sub-team pitches their draft and lets their colleagues give feedback using the OKR quality criteria. Remind the team to stick to the time plan and to give constructive input.
OKR Drafting Canvas: Objectives
First the Objective is phrased. To help maintain a certain quality in the OKRs, some teams start by ﬁlling out three post-its that each indicate:
- The customer we are creating value for
- The value we plan on generating
- The inspiring future state which we aspire to be at by the end of cycle
Check your Objective with the most important criteria:
- Describing a desirable state or condition in the future
- Qualitative (not measurable)
- Radical focus on customer and business value
Further Quality Criteria for great Objectives:
- Maximum 3-4 Objectives per organizational unit
- Balanced: inspiring, ambitious, and realizable
- 60% Bottom-Up (operative) and 40% Top-Down (strategic)
- Derived from strategy, long term goals and/or team needs
- Realizable in one cycle
The quality criteria above need to be applied within a reasonable frame. Each OKR introduction has certain goals and your company has certain things they would like to achieve with it. This is what you should keep in mind when enforcing these criteria. If your company’s main goal is to create focus then the criteria of “max. 3-4 Objectives” might need to be bumped up to the “most important criteria” category.
It might also be that you discovered in your past cycles during the retros, that you had to reformulate and pull many OKRs in the next cycle. In this case you should focus on the “realizable in one cycle “ criteria.
These issues are best discussed and set with the Program Leads.
6. Define success drivers & draft Key Results (30min)
Now have a look at your Objective and think about the most important success drivers that will make you achieve this goal.
- In the ﬁrst 20 minutes, each group uses the time to deﬁne a sufﬁcient Key Result for each of the success drivers.
- Then each team uses the Key Result Quality Checklist or other OKR Quality Tools to make sure the quality standards are met in ca. 5 min.
- In the last 5 minutes of this phase, every sub-team pitches their draft and lets their colleagues give feedback using the OKR quality criteria.
OKR Drafting Canvas: Key Results
In the second step, the Key Results are created. Another way than starting from success drivers is to look at the promises made in the Objective and address one at a time
Make sure every Key Result:
- Has one speciﬁc metric that you can inﬂuence.
- Also, focus on a limited set of Key Results for your goal
- A recommendation for a healthy amount of Key Results is 3-5.
After the drafting of the Key Results you can do one more round of iteration where you see if the Objective or the Key Results still need polishing.
Check your Key Results with the most important criteria:
- Results: not milestones or tasks
- Quantitative and measurable
- Lead metrics that can be inﬂuenced
Further Quality Criteria for great Key Results:
- Maximum 4-5 Key Results per Objective
- Ambitious and realizable
- Describing how the Objective shall be achieved
- Very speciﬁc (avoid vague words like “implement”)
- Accepted by stakeholders
For many teams in their ﬁrst cycles it is not always possible to ﬁnd a measurable Key Result. Often there are no baselines or data or ways of measuring the impact of their work to begin with. Here are some tips in this case:
- Try to draft a Key Result that resembles more a milestone but can actually still indicate some progress when you will look at it during the Check-ins BUT: avoid binary Key Results since they would not provide much value
- If there is no other way to measure the impact or value you are providing, use a survey to get at least some rather subjective feedback from a number of different sources that provides you with a validation or invalidation of the hypothesis you are posing
But keep in mind, you need to steadily improve the quality of your Key Results to actually gain all the value possible from the OKR framework. Try to establish baselines and work on achieving the necessary measuring capabilities.
7. Refining OKRs and documentation (60min)
After completing the previous step, the teams can continue iterating for another hour.
After this last phase the OKR owners (people who will be responsible for the progress of the OKRs during the cycle) are deﬁned and should document their pre-ﬁnal OKR versions in the OKR Draft Templates with clear responsibilities (owners, contributors, external dependencies).
Do a quick ﬁnal check-up, if you have discussed and agreed on all the necessary OKR details:
- a motivational and qualitative Objective
- 3-5 Key Results (with one speciﬁc metric and a deﬁned start/target value each)
- all relevant stakeholders and dependencies
- and the higher goal(s) you are supporting.
Also document the open questions so you can do a follow-up with other OKR Coaches in your organization. Last but not least, remind the OKR owners to transfer their OKR drafts into the Workpath platform. This should be done within the next 1-2 days.
How often do we need an OKR Drafting Workshop?
Teams define new OKRs shortly before the start of each OKR cycle. The amount of OKR Drafting Workshops per year therefore depends on the cycle length.
Are there Alternative Approaches to Finding Effective OKRs?
The TRIZ Method: Make a list with all activities and results that you could pursue to achieve an Objective. Then go through the list and highlight the activities that are actually being done currently. Go through this list of highlighted items and decide on which ones to stop or eliminate.
The 5 Whys: Think of the 5-6 biggest roadblocks that prevent you from achieving your Objective. Ask 5 times “Why” this roadblock is holding you back or limiting you. Then discuss how you can tackle these and how you will measure if you have been successful.