top of page

How to Set Expectations for Your Team

If there is one thing a leader can do to get results and garner respect, it is being clear on expectations.

This includes everything from deadlines for deliverables, response times to email, and how frequently team members are to keep the boss informed of the work. It also includes decorum or what is appropriate behavior at work such as expectations for speaking up in meetings, what to wear for an important presentation, and if using profanity at work is acceptable.

A big pitfall for many managers is to assume their team should “just know” or have the “common sense” to figure this stuff out. But given the workplace is (thankfully) filled with employees of diverse backgrounds, education, values, and perspectives it’s almost absurd to think that they would all have the same “common sense” (whatever that is).

So, if a manager hasn’t explicitly described what they want out of an employee’s performance, it is unreasonable to think that they will magically figure it out on their own.

Expectation setting is one of the secrets to great leadership. If you want to differentiate yourself from other mediocre bosses, then become a master expectation setter. Here’s how.

Identify your expectations

Before saying anything out loud to your team, get clear on what your expectations are. Carve out some dedicated time to do this and write it down. Think about deadlines, deliverables, response times, and format of the work. Such as, which deadlines hard and fast and which ones are flexible? Do you want an agenda and note-taker for every meeting? Also, consider behavior and if there are any “unwritten” rules about how to act in your department. What behavior expectations do you need to name?

For example, let’s say you have a direct report who talks too much in meetings. You’re noticing others don’t say anything because this person dominates the conversation. Instead of being annoyed and thinking they should know when to stop talking, frame up an expectation. Such as, you want to hear everyone’s perspective in meetings. This means those who talk a lot might need to consolidate their thoughts and those who talk less need to be prepared to speak up.

Assess, do you meet your own expectations?

Credible and respected leaders “walk their talk”, this means they do what they say. For example, if you want your team to respond to your emails within 24hours, do you respond to theirs in the same timeframe? You may not. This doesn’t mean you can’t set the expectation, but it requires you to provide a good justification. If it’s because someone above you needs something quickly, then share that and keep the expectation. But if it’s to satisfy your own impatience, then it might be worth adjusting. Other examples for behavior include,

Here's the bottom-line, once you state your expectations for others, they will watch you to see if you do it yourself. The team will likely follow what you do (and less what you say). So, if you have any expectations that you either don’t want to follow or can’t, take those off the list.

Introduce your expectations and get feedback

Now select 2-3 new expectations you want to put in place and introduce them with a two-step approach. This is to get feedback, understand the reality of the impact of your expectations, and build buy-in.

Step 1: Introduce the expectations in a team meeting. This is to allow everyone to hear the same thing at once. Describe the impact you’re seeking by putting the expectations in place and invite genuine feedback by saying, “I want to hear from each of you how these new expectations impact you.” Then invite comments and questions from the group.

Step 2: Give everyone advanced notice to be prepared in their next 1-on-1 meeting with you to discuss these expectations. This gives people time to prepare their feedback for you as well as say something that they may not normally say in front of the group.

This may feel like a formal and slow approach to expectation setting. However, if you have never been explicit about what you expect from the team, then it’s a good idea to make this change gradually and with their input to get buy-in.

Expectation setting is one of the most important skills for leaders to master. It begins with being able to explicitly define them, ensure you’re following them yourself, and then building the buy-in needed for people to meet them. To further build your skill set and explore other areas where clear expectations can benefit the work of the team, read this: Improve Communication with Expectations and Processes

If you haven’t already, subscribe to the blog at the bottom of this page to be notified when each post is published.

Until next time!


Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.

Start learning online now with GPC Academy.


You have been subscribed.

Blog images designed by Freepik

bottom of page