Shared goals and shared purpose are commonly mentioned as elements of the cognitive dimension of social capital. The other dimensions of social capital being the structural and relational dimensions. This conceptualisation, distinguishing between structural, relational, and cognitive dimensions, is one of the major approaches to social capital. This approach was systematically explored and elucidated by Nahapiet & Ghoshal (1998)[1] building on Granovetter’s (1992)[2] discussion of structural and relational embeddedness.

Shared goals are the collective aspirations of actors and the sense of shared destiny with others

Shared goals are the collective aspirations of actors and the sense of shared destiny with others[3][4]. Shared goals are a force that holds people together and allows actors to coordinate their efforts and work together for mutual benefit[5]. They are more than just established and documented goals. They are the shared belief that actor’s interests are represented by the social group or society and that working for the benefit of the group will progress personal interests, now or in the future. Shared goals exist when actors believe that their actions will be appropriately reciprocated by others and that actors will meet their obligations and expectations[6]. As such, it is strongly associated with belonging, solidarity, and trust.

When there are strong shared goals, actors are more likely to prioritise group needs over their own personal needs. Also, when there are strong shared goals there tends to be more cooperation and collaboration and actors are more likely to defer personal benefit for collective benefits[7]. Shared goals focus and coordinate strategic action towards mutual benefit that increases the likelihood that actors can simultaneously fulfill both individual and group goals[7].

Acting with self-interest undermines solidarity, trust, sense of togetherness, identity, and belonging

The importance of shared goals can be easily understood by considering what happens when actors act with self-interest. Acting on individual goals, particularly if they detract in some way from the achievement of group goals, undermines solidarity, trust, sense of togetherness, identity, and belonging. This weakens group effectiveness and leads to lower participation which can lead to or exacerbate isolation and disconnection.

Shared goals strongly influence the nature of social norms by clarifying and highlighting what actions are productive to achieving shared goals and the actions that are counterproductive[8]. Therefore, revealing what actions are appropriate and desirable and those that are not[9]. These norms predispose individuals to cooperate and tend to constrain opportunistic behaviour[10]. This encourages actors to act more effectively in pursuit of shared objectives. Shared goals attach meaning to performance which makes it easier to evaluate individual and group actions and encourage change where required. Shared goals are a powerful motivator for collective action.

Shared goals are developed over time through social interaction and experience

Shared goals are developed over time through social interaction and experience[11]. Shared goals can be reached when actors are able to understand each other’s perspectives, common difficulties, and opportunities for mutual benefit. They are developed from a sense of shared identity and togetherness, and from shared experiences. When individuals identify with a group, their concern for collective processes and outcomes is enhanced, which increases the chances that collaboration will occur[12].

Various activities can help with the development of shared goals, such as jointly developing plans, budgets, procedures, rules, roles, and agreements that participants believe will achieve the desired outcomes[13]. When actors are empowered by these activities, they tend to develop commitment, solidarity, and trust that contributes towards various aspects of social capital[12].

Shared goals are built over time with use. They tend to be reinforced by success and diminished by unmet expectations, failure, and lack of clarity. When a group achieves or makes progress towards shared goals the belief in the goals tend to strengthen. Setting achievable goals can help to quickly reinforce a sense of common purpose, solidary, and trust. This affect can be magnified by acknowledging and celebrating the achievement of, or progress towards shared goals. The attitudes towards shared goals are reinforced by the narrative, which is powerfully shaped by influential actor’s reactions to events and outcomes (such as leaders and external actors).


  1. Nahapiet, J., & Ghoshal, S. (1998). Social capital, intellectual capital, and the organizational advantage. Academy of Management Review, 23(2), 242 ^
  2. Granovetter, M. (1992). Problems of explanation in economic sociology. In N. Nohria & R. Eccles (Eds.), Networks and organizations: Structure, form, and action (pp. 25–56). Harvard Business School Press ^
  3. Adler, P. S., & Kwon, S.-W. (2002). Social capital: Prospects for a new concept. The Academy of Management Review, 27(1), 17–40 ^
  4. Tsai, W., & Ghoshal, S. (1998). Social capital and value creation: The role of intrafirm networks. Academy of Management Journal, 41(4), 464–476 ^
  5. Chow, W. S., & Chan, L. S. (2008). Social network, social trust and shared goals in organizational knowledge sharing. Information & Management, 45(7), 458–465 ^
  6. Lesser, E., & Prusak, L. (1999). Communities of Practice, Social Capital and Organizational Knowledge. Information Systems Review, 1(1), 3–10 ^
  7. Uhlaner, L. M., Matser, I. A., Berent-Braun, M. M., & Flören, R. H. (2015). Linking Bonding and Bridging Ownership Social Capital in Private Firms. Family Business Review. ^
  8. Preece, J. (2004). Etiquette, empathy and trust in communities of practice: Stepping-stones to social capital. Journal of Universal Computer Science, 10(3), 294–302 ^
  9. Sanchez-Famoso, V., Maseda, A., & Iturralde, T. (2014). The role of internal social capital in organisational innovation. An empirical study of family firms. European Management Journal, 32(6), 950–962 ^
  10. Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone : the collapse and revival of American community. Simon & Schuster ^
  11. Harjanti, D. (2019). Burnout and Employee Performance in Hospitality Industry: The Role of Social Capital. Jurnal Teknik Industri, 21(1), 15–24. ^
  12. Burbaugh, B. (2015). The Influence of Leadership Development Approaches on Social Capital: A Mixed Methods Study [Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University] ^
  13. Chenhall, R. H., Hall, M., & Smith, D. (2010). Social capital and management control systems: A study of a non-government organization. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 35(8), 737–756 ^

Leave a Comment

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

Subscribe to get a free guide to social capital.

Free Guide to Social Capital



Our guide has answers to key questions about social capital

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive our free guide about social capital with links to our extensive resources for futher information

No thanks, I don't want the guide

Do you want


to get more

Scroll to Top