Measuring team happiness is a SMART thing to do

Every business leader wants to build great teams but too many define greatness solely in terms of successful business outcomes. Now I don’t have anything against business success, but I do think that building happy, successful teams is an even smarter move.

Measuring team happiness is a SMART thing to do

Every business leader wants to build great teams but too many define greatness solely in terms of successful business outcomes. Now I don’t have anything against business success, but I do think that building happy, successful teams is an even smarter move.


Because when teams are successful but at the cost of team happiness then it is highly likely they will self-destruct over time. Tensions and conflicts will arise. If the team are working long hours, “always on”, and very driven, then team members will soon become exhausted, lose focus, and eventually burn out or leave. Effectively unhappy teams are unstable. Whereas happier teams that work well together are better able to absorb pressures and shocks mainly because they collaborate and communicate so much more effectively.

This is why I think building happy, successful teams should be the goal of every business. Which in practice means that team leaders need to be charged with the twin challenges of meeting their business goals and looking after team happiness.

The great thing is that the two actually support each other as not only does everyone feel happier when they are accomplishing their goals but also, as I have written extensively about elsewhere, happier employees are more productive. Effectively happiness and success build on each other and team happiness shouldn’t be seen as a nice-to-have but instead as a critical element of building successful businesses.

However, it is also fair to recognise that setting team happiness as a goal feels a bit weird. Many people think happiness is a bit fluffy – not really appropriate as a business goal. I want to challenge this viewpoint and to do so I am going to use one of the most popular ways of defining a business goal ever devised – the SMART objective for goal setting.

SMART goals

SMART goals were developed way back in 1981 when George Duran, a director at the Washington Water Power Company, wrote a very short paper in the Management Review journal. He had realised that in his organisation there was a lack of clarity about how to define a business goal, so he set up an internal consultation to help them develop a set of criteria. Out of this process he created a set of five very sound criteria but surely the touch of brilliance was in the mnemonic that he created to make them easy to remember – SMART.

Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant Time-bound = SMART

In the 40 years since, with a few tweaks here and there, they have proved their worth by their sheer popularity. They are very widely used in project management, performance management, personal development and even in fitness training (as I was reminded the other week when it was suggested to me that I set myself some smart fitness goals!).

When I first came across SMART goals, I was stuck by how well they aligned with the criteria that a group of highly experienced statisticians had proposed for creating policy-relevant indicators. Although expressed in more technical language in a seminal 2001 paper they suggested that good indicators need to have a resonant, clear purpose and be constructed in a transparent way that tracks changes in a statistically robust way.

Is Team Happiness a SMART goal?

As I am proposing team happiness should be a business goal, I am going to use the SMART criteria to assess its suitability. In order to provide some context, I’ll compare and contrast team happiness with the notion of employee engagement.

Specific Team happiness: GOOD, Employee engagement: GOOD

Both employee engagement and team happiness qualify specific goals. They both add value to the business. They differ in that employee engagement is more focused on the performance and behaviours of individuals; whereas happiness is about how team members feel and their overall experience of work.

Measurable Team happiness: GOOD, Employee engagement: OK

Measures of team happiness and engagement both exist. The reason I only score employee engagement as ok is that engagement surveys don’t actually measure engagement itself, instead they measure the drivers of engagement. I have written about this before, but the problem is that there are as many measures of engagement as there are engagement consultancies – they all have their own model and own questionnaire. This confusion arises because you can’t ask an employee “how engaged are you at work?” as people don’t really understand the question. Especially what does it mean to be “very engaged”? Do you have to be “always on” and working all the time. Whereas it is very easy to answer, “how happy are you at work?” as we intuitively know whether we’re happy or not.

Achievable Team happiness: GOOD, Employee engagement: GOOD

Both score well on this criteria – employees can become more engaged and teams can become happier – they are achievable goals. Interestingly in some SMART scorecards the A stands for accountable or assignable. In businesses that want to build happy, successful teams then they need to make it an explicit part of the team leader’s role. In practice this means giving them the resources, especially the time, and assigning responsibility to them. This can certainly also be true of employee engagement, though often in practice the accountability tends to sit more centrally in the organisation.

Relevant Team happiness: GOOD, Employee engagement: GOOD/OK

Both team happiness and employee engagement are relevant, though if I refer back to the research on good indicators then happiness resonates more with people. This is because engagement is much more focused on the employers’ agenda of directly increasing productivity, whereas a focus on team happiness is about improving everyone’s experience of work. So, a happiness approach is likely to appealing to employees because of the clear benefit to them.

Time-bound Team happiness: GOOD, Employee engagement: POOR

Team happiness is best measured weekly to capture the inevitable ups and downs of our work experience whereas most employee engagement surveys are only annual. This really lets them down is terms being a goal that you track well. This weakness really stems from the measurement of engagement as a set of drivers rather than an as outcome. Gallup make this even worse as they have a complete mish mash of time periods in their Q-12 questions. Some are framed as about last week, others last year and many have no time frames. This means time trends make little or no sense and they are certainly not suitable for being asked repeatedly in pulse surveys.

Team happiness when measured weekly scores well on all five of the SMART criteria, whereas employee engagement has more of a mixed scorecard. Happiness does better because it is more clearly defined, easier to measure (and track) and it resonates more with people. The last point is very important because a happiness approach opens a whole new way of engaging with teams.

In conclusion, and perhaps somewhat ironically, happiness is more engaging than engagement, and if you want to build great teams then the SMART thing to do is to measure team happiness every week.