How to succeed at team planning: 6 best practices

Written by 
David Young
 and 
  —  
December 14, 2023
An image showing four people sitting around a desk in a bright office space, with a fifth person standing in front of a whiteboard and speaking to the group

Your organization’s mission is clear, its yearly goals are pristine, and even its quarterly objectives have all been ironed out. As for individual projects, you’ve got plans for those too. You’re all set, right? 

Not quite. 

Between your ten-thousand-feet long-term plans and your ground-level short-term ones, there’s a whole world of priorities, processes, and potential. 

That’s where team planning comes in.

But is all this planning really necessary? Although it may feel overwhelming putting together yet another set of goals and objectives down on paper, it’s a step that can nevertheless save you a lot of time and trouble in the long run. When done properly, an effective team plan will even serve as an essential connective tissue between what your team wants to get done today and what it needs to accomplish all year.

So let’s break down the basics of successful team planning, from all the benefits it can offer you to how to best get it done.

What is team planning?

Team planning is when you create a strategic document that outlines the team’s objectives for the next year or quarter against the organization’s long-term goals. This makes it possible to prioritize day-to-day projects, more effectively assign tasks and responsibilities, create realistic timeframes, and allocate resources more efficiently, among other benefits. Even more importantly, it helps teams understand their work within its larger context.

Let’s consider a marketing team at a new real estate tech startup. Their company was recently established with a mission to make it easier for property sellers to find interested buyers. This is their overall objective. Using team planning, the marketing team might first make sure everyone is aligned by establishing their own goals. For example, over the next year, they'll double the company’s conversion rates. Over the next quarter, they'll build out an integrated ad campaign. And over the next month, they'll make strategic hires to support their other goals.

From there, the team will be in a great place to start putting together plans for their other projects. They’ll have an understanding of the full context, alignment around everyone’s responsibilities, and a high-level strategy for getting it all done.

Why teams should have a defined planning process

If you can get everyone on the same page and come up with a strategy that everyone sticks with, your team plan can be one of the most valuable documents you spend time on all quarter. Here are a few benefits you can expect to get out of it:

  1. Clarify ways of working: Do you want to establish some quality control mechanisms? Or maybe you just want to make sure your team’s workflows are as efficient as possible? A team plan can help you clear up exactly how everything, no matter how simple or complex, should get done. And that can save an enormous amount of time and stress.
  2. Align and set measurable goals: With a well-structured planning process, you’ll be better able to agree on the goals that are most crucial, as well as define how they're measured. This will help the team evaluate their progress, track their performance, and make necessary adjustments as needed.
  3. Define roles and responsibilities: A team plan is a great chance to make explicit what you expect everyone to do. This can include both the big and the small, such as the projects they’ll take on, the tasks they’ll carry out, and the outcomes they’ll need to achieve. Putting down all this will also make everyone more accountable, which will help foster a sense of ownership among the team.
  4. Better time management and resource allocation: A good team plan will also help you go through, identify, and prepare all the resources you’ll need to reach your goals. This can include workforce, budget, specific technology, and more. Allocating all this ahead of time will prevent misuse, saving both time and money.
  5. Additional flexibility: Just because a team plan puts everything down on paper doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck to one path. In fact, the best team plan will help make the team more flexible and agile by giving them a structured foundation that clarifies priorities and reduces ambiguities. This will make it easier to exercise creativity when something unexpected happens.

Who should be involved with team planning?

As its name suggests, a team plan shouldn’t be a set of orders delivered from executives up high. Rather, it should ideally be an inclusive document that contains input from everyone on the team. 

Of course, depending on the team’s size, its roles, and its functions, it may not be feasible to include absolutely everyone. But, at the very least, its creation should involve a representative group. For instance, team leaders and other senior managers should be there to make sure that the team plan aligns with the organization’s larger goals and objectives. Likewise, more junior-level team members need to be included so that there is buy-in from the bottom up. It can also be a good idea to include an external facilitator so that your team has a more impartial voice who can weigh in on sensitive matters and offer an outside perspective.

Regardless, try to include as much of your team as possible so that your plan is as collaborative as possible.

6 tips for improving your team planning sessions

The process of coming up with a team plan is a great opportunity to improve your team’s sense of communication and collaboration — but only if you have a strategy for walking them through it. Here are a few elements you should include to come up with a team plan that gets the job done.

1. Establish clear objectives and roles

A good place to begin building your plan is by first outlining what it is you want to do. During this initial meeting, you should discuss what you’d like your team plan to do. Should it merely be a rough guide for aligning individual projects with loftier company goals? Or should it get into the weeds regarding what each team member does? 

Once you’re on the same page regarding your objectives, try to look ahead and establish how everyone will contribute. Will it be more efficient for a small group to come up with a plan that everyone votes on? Or would it be better to organize and run a larger committee? This can be a good time to build out a team charter that establishes the ground rules for how your team will work together and communicate — both on this team plan and on other projects. Whether you do this from scratch or are using a template, this team charter should help set expectations for your team as you move forward.

2. Organize a planning session

Now it’s time to start actually making your plan. That means getting everyone together to talk and hash out what this plan will involve. But what’s the best way to do that? Creating something as overarching as a team plan can feel daunting. That’s why, in order to keep your planning session focused, it can be smart to consider how it gets put together.

For instance, building out a plan that involves all of your team’s projects over the next year or quarter can include a lot of information. Rather than hoping everyone not only has access to that information, but also thoroughly reviews it ahead of time, why not help them prepare by consolidating everything in one place? You could get this done by preparing a shared drive or by filling out a pre-work template. That way, it'll be easy for everyone to get on the same page. 

You might also want to consider how to promote inclusive, transparent, and productive discussions (that is, no groupthink). After all, if there are team members who don’t feel included in the session, or who feel like their contributions aren’t getting heard, then the team plan may come out incomplete. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to work around this. You could get the session started with an icebreaker, or give participants the option to share input before and after a session as well. 

And, maybe most importantly, don’t forget to set up some ground rules at the outset of the meeting so that everyone feels comfortable and ready to engage.

3. Establish clear roles and responsibilities

As you start putting together your team plan, one of the most important tasks will be assigning what everyone will be responsible for. While job titles and past roles can be a guide, the evolving nature of many projects and the way many team members’ responsibilities often overlap can sometimes create confusion when it comes to who should do what.

One way to solve this is by agreeing on a framework for defining roles and responsibilities for different projects. This will help ensure accountability while giving your team enough flexibility to adapt to changing needs. For example, two popular frameworks are the RACI and DACI matrixes. Although similar, they each have four distinct roles that different tasks can be mapped onto. 

For example, RACI uses the following four roles:

  • Responsible: The person responsible for getting the work done.
  • Accountable: The person accountable for the project’s outcome.
  • Consulted: The person who shares their expertise by providing input or feedback.
  • Informed: This person is kept informed about the project’s status, but is not directly involved.

In contrast, DACI uses these four roles:

  • Driver: The person driving the project forward, either through coordination or production.
  • Approver: The person who approves or rejects the project. They're responsible for its outcome.
  • Contributor: The person who informs the project by sharing their expertise.
  • Informed: This person is kept informed about the project’s status, but isn't directly involved.

Simple but highly adaptable, frameworks like these can help your team quickly and efficiently determine the work each person is responsible for any a project-by-project basis.

Note: Look out for a Mural template coming soon that'll help you leverage these two frameworks.

4. Define what success looks like

Just as your planning session should make explicit what everyone on your team is doing, so should it clarify what your team is working toward. By defining these goals, as well as what success will look like, you can both make sure that your team plan aligns with your larger organizational objectives, as well as give employees a powerful incentive as they work through their projects.

The trick is coming up with goals that are lofty enough to motivate and move the needle, but aren’t so ambitious they can’t be met. To achieve this, consider using the SMART goal criteria. Short for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound, these types of goals give you useful parameters that can help you remove guesswork and establish more effective metrics for success. 

Let’s consider an example. Take this goal:

The team will help the company improve profit by next quarter.

While it may have a specific goal (improve profit) and a timeline (next quarter), there still isn’t much here to gauge the team’s performance or progress. How should they help turn a profit? How will profit be measured? Given the state of the company, how realistic is this goal?

Let’s rewrite it to address these concerns:

The team will increase the company’s net profit margin by 10% over the current margin, as measured by financial reports. They'll achieve this through cost-saving and efficiency measures, as well as by increasing sales by at least 20%. The timeframe for accomplishing this goal is the next quarter.

Now we have a highly specific goal that clearly instructs exactly what the team needs to accomplish (increase net profit margin by 10% over current margin) and how (cost-saving and efficiency measures, as well as a 20% or more increase in sales). This will make it much easier for the team to work toward this goal — and much more likely they’ll succeed.

5. Define potential costs, resources, requirements, and roadblocks

With your goals and metrics for success set, you should also take the opportunity to include any additional information that could be helpful for your team. This could include the projected costs of different projects, which team leaders and managers can use to properly prioritize what needs to be done. Alongside this, consider the resources your team will need for each project. Are these resources available? Or will they need to be allocated ahead of time? If so, you may want to create a plan for that as well.

You could also list out potential roadblocks and other challenges that might stand in the way. For instance, are there any dependencies that might slow down the start of a project? Or any prerequisites that'll need to be addressed? By identifying and calling these out, you’ll help prepare your team and save them time.

6. Create a project plan

Once you’ve made it through the team planning process, it can be worth seeing how it all comes together by creating an individual project plan. Hopefully, with your team’s goals laid out and mapped to organizational objectives, roles and responsibilities all properly defined, and success metrics established, all that'll be left to do is to size everything down for the scope of the project. 

One easy way to do this is by plugging information into a project planning template. With predefined sections for different parts of the project (such as its goals, key participants, cost and budget, and more), you can quickly align team members while streamlining the work of matching the project plan to the larger strategy for the team. As you do this, take note of any places where you think the team and project plans might diverge. Do the project’s goals advance what the wider team is trying to accomplish? Does it make good use of resources or team members’ time? 

Keep comparing your plans side by side and updating as needed. With your team plan serving as a check, you can make sure your projects all build toward your team’s larger success.

Help your teams plan to succeed

Every organization needs an overarching mission. And each project needs to be planned out. But one of the primary reasons that projects jump off the rails and don’t go as planned, or why carefully crafted mission statements get ignored, is a disconnect between an organization’s ideal and its day-to-day work. Building out an effective team plan helps solve for this.

While there’s no such thing as a 100 percent guarantee for success, a team plan can help get you much closer by providing you with a detailed roadmap for you to follow as you cycle through projects. And because it keeps you aligned with loftier objectives, even as you dig into the weeds, it’s a great way to get a quick gut check on your organization’s overall progress.

So what’s going to go into your team plan? If you can come up with it, Mural can cover it. Check out our library of templates or sign up today for free.

About the authors

About the authors

David Young

David Young

Contributing Writer
David is a contributing writer at Mural, focused on covering collaboration, meetings, and teamwork. He's been working in the hybrid tech space for over 10 years and has been writing about it nearly as long. When he's not doing that, he's probably cooking up a meal.

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