The art of providing expectations: Get input and the earlier the better

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The Manager by Designsm blog seeks to provide great people management tips and awesome team management tips.  An important skill that managers need to have is the act of providing expectations for how the team and individuals operate.  In my previous article, I discussed how it is necessary for a manager to provide expectations for the repeatable, established tasks. But this does not describe all of the tasks that many teams are expected to perform.

Many times teams, in addition to the repeatable work, are doing something for the first time, and must go through iterations to get it right and get the work done.  These are situations where the work does not have an established, repeatable rhythm, but is filled with problem-solving, new ideas and creative efforts.  So in addition to the repeatable tasks, let’s talk about providing expectations for forging forward into unknown territory, which increasingly describes many work teams!

Because something is new, this does not mean that a manager does not need to set expectations.  Instead, the manager must provide expectations on the level of how the team works together to achieve the goals set out for them.

So when I say “providing expectations,” I’m describing the act of establishing both the “what” the team on works on and “how” the team works together.  It is the act of setting the baseline understanding of what the team does and how it does it.  And once the repeating tasks are established and the criteria for quality are determined, these expectations can then be provided.

It is interesting how frequently managers and leaders omit the step of providing expectations for how the team or group is to move forward and accomplish its goals.  Providing expectations to your team lays the groundwork for how a team is to proceed – even when it is working on something that is entirely new, difficult and unknown.

Those in a leadership position need to be especially skilled in the art of providing expectations of how the team proceeds and operates.  Effectively done, this helps do the following:

— Avoid many issues you have to react to

–Create an atmosphere of trust

–Foster effective working relationships

–Increase the chances you are managing from a surplus rather than managing from a deficit.

OK, now that you’re geared up to providing expectations, and whether it is the “what” or the “how”, there are two key criteria for what makes for good expectations: Team input and timeliness.

Tip #1: Expectations ideas should come from the team

The more you can get input for what the team feels they should be working on and how they should be working together, the more artful the expectations you subsequently provide to the team.  There should be a time period where you meet with the team to hear what they think they ought to be doing and how they are doing it.  You’ll get lots of ideas, and when you subsequently provide the expectations, they reflect the actual values of the team.

Less artful:  “I think that the team should obtain full consensus on issues”

More artful: “In talking with the team on how to best work with each other, we will strive to make decisions by first giving a chance for input by all stakeholders, and when there isn’t a clear direction, the leadership team is to identify the direction based on the input.  Then we expect the team members to support the direction.” 

Tip 2: Expectations are provided early rather than late

Whether a leader of a large group or a manager of team provides expectations, it is best done early in the work cycle, rather than late in the work cycle.  If you are providing new expectations later on rather than earlier on, the less artful the expectation-providing.  Providing expectations can’t be done immediately after taking over a group, of course, but generally towards the beginning of a leadership cycle is better than toward the middle or end, as is frequently observed.

Less artful: [after a series of bad incidents] “From now on, we are going to make sure we treat each other with respect”

More artful: “We are going to treat each other with respect.”

A look at the alternatives:

Now let’s look at the alternatives to these tips to compare the more artful and less artful approaches.  In this example, the team leader is attempting to set expectations for how the team works together (click for a larger image).

The lower left quadrant is the most artful. The other quadrants are frequently observed, and sometimes they are inevitable, but the more effectively you can learn from the team and provide expectations, in this example, for how the team works together and what it is working on, the better.

Which part of the grid have the teams you experienced?  Feel free to share your stories.  Send me an email or leave them in the comments!

Related posts:

Examples of providing expectations to your team

Examples of using expectations to improve your performance feedback

Performance feedback is a means to improve your expectation-providing skills

The art of providing expectations: If there are established performance criteria, then make them known!

Public feedback drives performance down and doesn’t count as performance management

How Public Feedback Can Make the Situation Worse

Four more reasons giving public feedback backfires

If you’re the manager, it’s your job not to act surprised

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


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