“The weather’s beautiful—let’s go for a nice bike ride!”
You’re picturing a five-mile route along a trail, right? If so, we’re in trouble. I’m hoping for a 100-mile ride, hopefully on roads I’ve never traveled before. If we ride off together without getting our expectations aligned, we’ll soon find ourselves unhappy.
Over the last few years, I’ve been learning how common it is for expectations to differ at work, and how critical it is to get them aligned. We all have different interests, priorities, and perspectives. This leads to a range of expectations.
It takes intentional work to discover a group’s common purpose and ideal process. I’d like to share some of the most effective ways I’ve found to do that.
1. Agree on Goals
Disagreements on how to spend time often stem from misalignment on priorities and direction. It’s easy to assume that these are clear and shared, while in reality, you may have significant differences.
What are we really trying to accomplish? What defines success? If there are multiple goals, what’s the priority?
It can be frustrating to discuss agenda or process if you haven’t taken the time to agree on why you’re working together and what you hope to gain from the interaction. It’s worth having this conversation explicitly, if only to bring clarity and confirm that everyone is on the same page.
2. Share Context
Perhaps the activity you’re engaging in is familiar to some folks and new to others. I’ve found it really helpful to share what’s been done in the past.
What approaches have been tried and discarded? What’s led to the current approach? During this conversation, you’ll often uncover significant context and history that newer team members otherwise might miss and that could lead to expectation gaps.
3. Make Constraints Known
If your group needs to operate inside certain constraints, it’s important to make them clear. I sometimes assume that the group understands constraints only to find that they’re a source of confusion.
Note: It’s equally important to clarify which parameters are flexible. It may be the case that folks are unhappy with a perceived constraint that can be easily changed.
4. Be Open to New Direction
If you have a group that’s been rolling smoothly for a while, it can be easy to dismiss new ideas as uninformed, unnecessary, or off the mark. I’ve learned that groups’ needs change as their members change. What’s worked in the past isn’t necessarily the best approach for a new team. Be open to revisiting goals and process when new team members join.
5. Build Feedback into Your Activities
Finally, I’ve found it helpful to have team members score each group interaction. I just ask for a single score on a 1-10 scale, so it only takes a minute. We’re evaluating the agenda and process, not the content of the discussion or the decisions made.
I find scoring helpful because it drives group ownership of the format, and it provides early feedback if the agenda and process are failing to serve the team needs. Ideally, the prior steps helped your team start out with aligned expectations, but regular feedback can spot drift early when it’s easy to resolve.
Hopefully, these ideas are helpful to you! We all want our teams to be effective and efficient, so stay on the lookout for misaligned expectations.