Setting Expectations: The Key to High-Functioning Teams

High-performing teams are one of the hallmarks of a successful organization. When the teams in the company work well together and communicate effectively, they are better at managing tasks and are likelier to meet company-wide performance benchmarks.

While there are several characteristics of high-functioning teams, one of the most important things any manager can do to ensure good performance from his or her team is to set expectations.  Making your expectations clear to team members and helping them understand the consequences for failing to meet expectations helps keep everyone on track and aware of what they need to do and when.

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It’s not uncommon for managers to fail to establish adequate expectations. Sometimes this happens because managers want to avoid becoming dictators and prefer to let the team manage itself. Sometimes it’s because the manager incorrectly assumes the expectations are clear, believing that further clarification is unnecessary. Regardless of the reason, a manager who does not set expectations is likely not an effective one and will not have employees who are happy, motivated and productive.

Expectations vs. Goals

When you study the principles of leadership, one of most important things you will learn is how and why to set expectations — and that expectations are different than goals. Many leaders mistake these two, and while they are related, the differences between them are quite significant.

In short, expectations are the standards that guide your daily behavior and efforts. Goals are what you hope to accomplish. For example, a restaurant’s goal might be to be the highest-rated location in terms of customer satisfaction among an entire chain. To meet that goal, team members must adhere to certain expectations regarding how they interact with customers. The expectation isn’t that the restaurant will be number one, but that the team will do everything possible to make that goal a reality.

Before you can establish expectations, you must establish goals. What is the team hoping to accomplish? Everyone wants to feel like he or she has a purpose, and setting a goal helps provide that purpose and gives team members a framework to guide their activities and behaviors. Make sure the goals are specific, measurable and realistic, and establish benchmarks so the team can assess its progress and make adjustments.

 

Common Team Expectations

While specific team expectations vary according to the organization and industry — a hospital will have different expectations for its employees than an auto body shop, for example — there are certain categories of expectations that apply across industries. At minimum, managers should establish expectations in the following areas to lay the groundwork for a successful team.

Behavior. Obviously, you expect your team members to behave appropriately and professionally. However, setting specific expectations for how team members are to handle certain situations can prevent problems. For example, you might expect team members to avoid particular words or phrases in lieu of others, or perhaps you require anyone who has a problem to devise a potential solution before addressing the group. These standards bring order to the group and prevent misunderstandings down the road.

Conflict resolution. Conflict is an inevitable part of teamwork — we’re only human after all. Conflict does not have to be negative as it often can lead to creative solutions. How we deal with conflict can make the difference in how the team functions. Set expectations and a clear process for dealing with disagreements, and you’ll have healthier (and shorter) conflicts among team members.

Division of labor. Quite simply, team members must understand exactly what they are responsible for doing. Establish expectations for how to handle situations in which no one is responsible for a task. By doing so, you’ll avoid claims of “It’s not my job,” or “I thought that so-and-so would handle that.”

Failure to perform. Setting expectations is important, but it’s equally as important to establish what will happen if the expectations are not met. Clearly outlining the consequences for failing to meet expectations prevents confusion and provides recourse should a team member fail to fulfill his or her role.

Successful managers establish clear expectations for their teams, and successful teams adhere to expectations and work toward a common goal. Whether you are a new manager just getting your footing or a more experienced leader struggling to keep your people on track, take time to set expectations and watch your results improve.

 

About the Author: Rhonda Deland is a strategic management consultant and business blogger.

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