Setting clear expectations is critical to team success

When you are an employee, you expect your team leader to let you know what your job is and to teach you how to get that job done. Many supervisors make the mistake of assuming their team already knows what to do and they get upset when team members don’t do what appears to be “common sense.” Remember that while you as a supervisor have learned to do the work efficiently and well over time, your team may not have the experience and expertise you have. That could be one reason why you are in charge! So help them out by setting clear expectations.


Creating an environment for success

Let me provide you with a couple of examples. One supervisor complained that in the event of unexpected snowfall, his team did not shovel the snow on the site pathway and module steps. When he complained that he was always the one stuck with shoveling, their response was, “It sucks to be the boss.”

The supervisor felt he was becoming increasingly angry and resentful towards his team because of what he called their “typical” lazy team attitude about work that was not specifically attached to a job description. After talking together we came up with a plan: the supervisor would list all the jobs he felt resentful about doing and present the list to his team, asking them to add any jobs they also felt resentful about. Once the list was complete to everyone’s satisfaction, the team would jointly come up with a way to deal with each item either by assigning on a rotating basis or by creating a rule or standard operating procedure and checklist. At the end of the first week they would talk about the progress and see if adjustments needed to be made.

In a month he reported happily that the plan was going surprisingly well and he did not need to nag or complain to his team anymore. In fact their entire attitude had become helpful to the point of joining others to finish the jobs faster. The reason for this change was that their team leader had not previously set any clear expectations. He thought the team should just “do the right thing” without actually telling them what he wanted. They, on the other hand, saw that their supervisor would do whatever they left undone without any consequences to them. With the new system, the entire team became responsible for the unassigned jobs and they felt ownership for getting them done.

Another example is a manager who complained that her supervisors did not read the emails that she sent them. Accordingly, the supervisors did not respond to her directives and she had to remind them continuously to take care of tasks they had been assigned. After looking at her emails it was obvious why she was having this problem. They were all several paragraphs long and had no direct calls to action, dates, deadlines or people’s names attached to them. Employees did not know what to do with the emails and simply ignored them.

The manager had to practice writing clear emails with no more than three requests per email. She needed to integrate subject lines that made the emails easy to find later, and she needed to include dates, deadlines, and clear delegation of who would be responsible for each task. She also learned to put reminders into the office calendar to keep everyone on track with lead up time for various responsibilities.

Interestingly, both these supervisors truly believed they were communicating their expectations clearly to their team and that the team was at fault. However, after revising their strategy somewhat, they saw how clarity of expectation improved results. As the leader of any group, it is your responsibility to continuously check on how you communicate your expectations to the team.

Always remember: most people want to be compliant and to do a good job, but they can’t do it if they don’t know what to do or what you expect from them. Start with getting clear within yourself about what your expectations are – making some written notes about this can help. Then, express those standards simply and clearly to your team and check that they understand what they are responsible for and when it needs to be completed by. If you don’t have the benefit of a business coach or a management mentor, ask the team what you could do to improve your communication clarity. They may just surprise you with their suggestions.

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way that we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.”

Tony Robbins

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About the author: Marie Gervais, PhD, CEO Shift Management is a business-to-business entrepreneur who specializes in helping employers train their middle management to lead, get their workplace learning online and interactive, and conduct team assessments to figure out who to promote and how. She has a background in integrating internationally-trained individuals to the workplace and has supported many businesses in their efforts to hire, retain, support and promote immigrant and diverse employees. Get in touch – she would love to hear from you: or 780-454-5661