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Setting Clear Expectations

Setting clear expectations is a shared responsibility that is a crucial building block to creating high performing teams. As leaders, we are responsible for communicating clear and specific expectations. The person on the receiving end of the expectation bears an equal responsibility to ask questions when they are unclear or not aligned. At Team Trek we consider asking questions to be one of the “great secrets” of leadership and effective communication.

Why Set Clear Expectations?

As leaders and managers, we often assume people should know what’s expected of them – and therefore we don’t have to tell them. This assumption could not be further from the truth and reveals a problem in the way we communicate with one another. Fuzzy expectations are unfair to the individual, to the team, and to the organization. They also sow the seeds for mistrust and disengagement. What’s more, true accountability is nearly impossible without clear expectations.

Building a communication model that holds a team accountable for both setting clear expectations and asking probing questions creates an environment of active engagement and commitment. Unfortunately, few teams do it effectively.

When Should We Set Expectations?

Always set clear expectations with new hires, with any change in role and responsibilities, when assigning a new project, and during the annual performance appraisal. Likewise, remember to set clear expectations at the beginning and end of all meetings, whether they are one-on-one or group meetings. Whenever we expect others to take action, it’s important we set clear expectations.

What Types of Expectations Should Be Set?

We assume people have up-to-date job descriptions, so our focus on setting expectations is not on job responsibilities. However, some expectations impact those job responsibilities or tasks and others impact relationships. For example, we may expect our direct reports to set-up a bi-weekly staff meeting with us or to submit expense reports within a specified time frame (tasks.) On the other hand, we may expect our direct reports to not triangulate and to resolve differences directly with the people involved (relationships.)

Who Do We Set Expectations for?

The simple answer is to set expectations whenever we ask another person or a group to take action. This would include, but is not limited to, our direct reports, team members, peers, and even in certain circumstances, our manager. It would also include people who provide us with products and services, such as suppliers and consultants. As executive coaches, we set expectations for our clients every time we meet. We also set expectations in our personal lives for our children, family, friends, and service providers.

How Do We Set Clear Expectations?

  • Be clear and specific with ourselves about what we expect

  • Always include timelines

  • Decide whether to set expectations verbally, in writing, or both

  • Communicate in a clear, non-fuzzy, direct manner

  • Use language that will be understood and be aware of body language

  • Check for understanding by asking for a recap, either verbal or written

  • Clarify, if necessary

  • Confirm new understanding

  • Ask for commitment

Clear communication is essential in creating a safe environment in which everyone is willing to speak up. When expectations are communicated clearly as outlined above and employees are held accountable for asking clarifying questions, trust is strengthened and engagement increases. Underlying all of these principles is an individual commitment to 100% Responsibility, both on the side of the one setting the expectation and the one receiving it.


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Team Trek is a world-class provider of culture transformation solutions, leadership development, and team building.

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