Product School

Managing Team Expectations: A Guide for Product Leaders

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Author: Product School

December 18, 2023 - 9 min read

Updated: January 24, 2024 - 9 min read

Mastering the art of managing team expectations is not just to meet deadlines but to align with your business objectives. This balancing act involves setting clear, achievable expectations, and communicating them effectively - a skill crucial yet challenging.

Ask yourself, have you clearly defined your expectations? Clarity in your vision is the first step in effective communication. Your team needs to understand the 'what,' 'why,' and 'how' of their tasks. 

Your communication style matters. It should create a space of trust and openness, encouraging dialogue and understanding. And remember, each team member's unique skills and experiences are assets; tailor your expectations to harness these strengths.


The importance of setting expectations for your teams

As a leader, guiding your team through their responsibilities is key. Talent and experience are important, but without clear direction, they remain underutilized. Many employees lack an understanding of their company's goals, leading to misdirected efforts and reduced productivity.

When team members clearly understand their objectives and the company's vision, it transforms their work, aligning individual contributions with the company's broader goals. This alignment is crucial for understanding the purpose behind their tasks.

In summary, your role in clearly defining and communicating expectations is vital for success. Clear expectations lead to:

  • Increased employee engagement.

  • Higher team productivity.

  • Resolved performance management issues.

  • An improved work environment.

  • Better employee retention.

  • A shared understanding of goals.

  • Focused efforts on specific projects and initiatives.

What is your approach to managing work expectations?

Setting and managing team expectations is key to creating a roadmap to success that resonates with each team member. Expectations can indeed bring pressure, but when properly managed, this pressure becomes a driving force for business and team growth. 

For example, at Google, aligning team members' unique skills with the company's innovative goals has been pivotal. Google ensures each employee understands how their work contributes to the company's broader objectives, transforming routine tasks into meaningful steps toward innovation. This approach has led to high motivation levels and groundbreaking performance.

Effective communication is essential in this process. It's important to convey not only what is expected but also why these expectations matter and how they contribute to the company's objectives. Google, for instance, avoids confusion and conflict by maintaining transparency and encouraging open dialogue, ensuring their teams are unified and goal-oriented.

As a leader, consider how you communicate and track these expectations. Setting detailed goals, tracking progress, and having regular check-ins, as practiced by companies like IBM, are more than administrative tasks; they are chances to engage with your team and adapt strategies as needed.

Your approach to balancing expectations with the need for growth and innovation can significantly impact your team's success. Share your strategies and learn from others.

Are expectations met?

Are you aware that communication is often the weak link in many leadership chains? Let's face it: articulating expectations is more complex than it appears. A staggering 91% of employees attribute communication issues to preventing effective leadership. If your team is faltering, it might be time to look closely at how you're communicating your expectations.

Are you providing regular updates and feedback, or are expectations communicated once and then left to interpretation? Regular check-ins and open dialogues are vital. They create a dynamic environment where expectations can be adjusted in real-time, keeping pace with the ever-changing landscape of your industry.

Also, think about inclusivity in your communication. Are you considering the diverse communication styles and preferences within your team? Some may respond better to written instructions, while others prefer face-to-face discussions. Tailoring your communication approach can significantly enhance understanding and engagement.

So, if your team isn't meeting expectations, it might be time to re-examine not just the expectations themselves, but how you're communicating them. Invest in building your communication skills. Ensure your team not only hears but understands and aligns with your vision. 


How to communicate your expectations

Setting expectations is a vital aspect of leadership, yet many leaders struggle with it. When establishing expectations with employees, providing context is crucial. Key elements for effective expectation setting are clarity, context, and alignment.

Let’s flesh it out into actionable steps:

1. Communicate clearly and frequently

Start by clearly stating your expectations during the onboarding process. Detail the specifics, like task reporting and email response times. These may seem like small details, but they are fundamental in establishing your team's workflow.

A structured communication plan is key. It removes ambiguity, aligns the team, and saves time. This plan should clearly outline the organization's vision and team goals in simple terms. Explain how each member's role ties into these objectives, focusing on creating a shared understanding of the team's direction.

You can encourage team engagement by seeking their opinions on achievable goals and challenges. This aids setting realistic expectations and also makes team members feel involved and valued.

Finally, be open about the support available to your team, including resources, training, or mentorship. This transparency boosts their confidence in meeting set expectations.

2. Encourage collaboration in setting expectations

Have you ever clearly communicated your expectations, only to find they were misunderstood or not fully grasped? Many face this issue, especially considering the various responsibilities their team members juggle. Misinterpretations of expectations are not unusual.

Combining clear communication with coaching can be a game-changer. Use your coaching skills to guide your team effectively. Google's internal platform, known as "gCareer," is a tool that aids in this process. It provides employees with resources and coaching to navigate their careers within the company. 

In managing teams, especially remote ones, working collaboratively and possibly on a one-on-one basis can lead to better ways of setting and communicating expectations. 

3. Create documents for roles and responsibilities

Everyone must be acutely aware of their responsibilities – after all, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Missteps, even by a single team member, can set off a domino effect of challenges, potentially derailing your project.

It's your responsibility to ensure that each member of your team is not just aware of their obligations but also understands the significance of their role within the larger framework of the organization. One effective way to achieve this is by creating comprehensive documents detailing each role and responsibility within your team.

These documents should:

  • Clearly outline what is expected from each team member

  • Detail how each role contributes to the overall objectives

  • Specify the impact of their work on the broader company goals. 

Michael Jordan famously said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” This proactive approach can significantly reduce confusion and align individual efforts with the company's strategic goals, leading to a more cohesive and productive team.

4. Explain the importance of being efficient with time

How your team uses time can be the difference between mediocre and outstanding results. It's one thing to clock in and out each day, but quite another to use those hours effectively and efficiently. Emphasizing the importance of time management is about maximizing the potential of every workday.

Your team should understand that every minute at work counts. When your team realizes that their time management is a priority for you, it sets a tone of seriousness and focus.

One practical approach to enhancing productivity is through tracking the total time spent on tasks. This data serves as a tangible measure of their work output. By comparing the time logged against the tasks completed, you gain insights into their efficiency. 

But don't stop there; use this information as a basis for constructive discussions. Sit down with your team and discuss potential improvements. Offer guidance on how they can better manage their time, prioritize tasks, and eliminate inefficiencies.

Team collaboration

5. Make everyone feel part of the team

Creating a sense of belonging and collaboration in your team is crucial. It involves building a team culture where support, engagement, and mutual assistance are the norms. Ensure that your team members are aware that help is always at hand, which is vital for fostering a unified and welcoming environment.

Consider Accenture as an example. The company has established a strong coaching culture, encouraging senior staff to mentor and coach junior team members. Additionally, Accenture forms cross-functional teams for projects, bringing together employees from various specialties and experience levels. This strategy not only facilitates a diverse exchange of ideas but also enhances learning opportunities across the board.

Such commitment to creating a supportive and inclusive work environment can greatly improve team dynamics and boost overall productivity. Encourage teamwork and develop strong interpersonal connections within your team. Thus, each member feels valued and plays a crucial role in the team's and, by extension, the company's success. This inclusive and collaborative approach offers benefits that ripple through the entire organization.

6. Solidify your expectations and give purpose

When delegating tasks, it's important to be clear and specific about the standards and deadlines. Make sure your team knows exactly what is expected and who to contact with questions, whether it's their team lead or you. 

For instance, Microsoft's management teams use detailed guidelines and clear points of contact, ensuring efficient communication and task completion.

In addition to task assignment, link tasks to broader objectives to increase motivation. People are more engaged when they see their work's value. An example is Tesla, where employees are reminded that their efforts contribute to a larger mission of advancing sustainable energy, not just manufacturing cars. This perspective adds meaning to their work and boosts morale and productivity.

Team motivation

Key takeaways of motivation

Communicating expectations effectively is vital for your team's success. Businesses with strong communication practices often experience lower staff turnover, underscoring the importance of clear communication in team performance.

Make sure you:

  1. Are clear and direct: Communicate in a straightforward, unambiguous manner.

  2. Document expectations: Write down expectations to provide a clear reference and reduce confusion.

  3. Address miscommunication promptly: Quickly resolve any misunderstandings to maintain clarity.

  4. Set measurable goals: Define quantifiable and time-bound expectations for easier comprehension and achievement.

  5. Practice inclusive leadership: Foster a collaborative and innovative environment by valuing diverse perspectives.

  6. Clarify expectations for new projects/initiatives: Ensure new undertakings have clearly defined goals and expectations.

  7. Set clear expectations in job descriptions: Convey role expectations to new hires from the start.

  8. Recognize achievements: Reward and acknowledge your team’s accomplishments to motivate them.

Use feedback and coaching: Employ these tools to encourage growth and empower your team.

Updated: January 24, 2024

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