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The Power of Clear Expectations: How to Improve Teamwork and Collaboration

Updated: 2 days ago



When a team isn’t working well together, everyone knows it.


Sometimes, there is a subtle feeling of dissatisfaction or a sense of disappointment knowing that a bigger impact could be made if only the team could just “get it together.” Other times it’s more obvious with blatant bad behaviors like eye rolling, spiteful sarcasm, silence, or gossip. Meetings might be unproductive due to shallow disagreements or apathy.


Overall, people on the team are frustrated, maybe even hurt, or offended by their colleagues. This leads to grudges and the cycle of unproductive teamwork continues.


When teams devolve into this space it can feel futile because bad personalities are often blamed. People chalk up someone’s bad behavior to “that’s just how they are” and give up on the idea that the team dynamic, with a few tweaks, could indeed shift.  Poor teamwork is rarely the result of bad personalities.


The backbone of productive teamwork is clear and consistent expectation setting that is centered on 5 components : psychological safety, defined goals, clear roles and processes, productive teamwork, and routine debriefs. When a team defines and agrees to expectations for working together, they will see and feel that team dynamic shift. Teamwork becomes interconnected, focused on a shared outcome, and more satisfying.


If your team could benefit from setting or maybe resetting expectations but you’re not sure where to begin, pick one of these teamwork topic areas and begin there. These are the areas of teamwork where clear expectations are often needed most.


Meetings and Email

Meetings are the most frequently occurring teamwork activity and emails are the primary way in which teams communicate. Teams that take the time to talk about what they expect out of each other in meetings and using email will do better in the long run. Here are some expectations to set if you and your team haven’t done so already:

  • All meetings have an agenda that is shared in advance, a goal that is communicated at the start of the meeting, and begin within 3 minutes of the start time.

  • Time is reserved at the end of each meeting for wrap up (i.e. was the goal of the meeting achieved?) and identifying action items.

  • Meetings end at least five minutes before the start of the next meeting.

  • The team responds to each other’s emails within a mutually agreed upon time (i.e. 24 hours).

  • The team establishes when to cc others on email, what cc’ing means, the response time (if any) for people cc’d, and when/if bcc is ever used.

  • The team avoids replying all with 1–3-word responses like “Thanks”, “Will do”, or “See you then.”

 

Information sharing

Breaking down silos, working cross-functionally, and connecting work to a shared outcome are three of the most popular requests I get for help with teamwork. These activities are centered on information sharing and many struggle to do it well because it’s much easier to not share information.  We all naturally gravitate to behaviors and activities that are the easiest for us to perform. The reality is that collaborating and sharing information with others is harder and takes more time than not doing it.


The best way to tackle this problem is to set a format so that everyone shares information in the same way. Here are a few examples for update meetings. Everyone shares…

  • A success, challenge, and a recent example working across silos.

  • The top 2 most important pieces of work that impact the work of others on the team.

  • One success and one obstacle to the work. If needed, ask for help or collaboration to remove that obstacle.


Here’s the point, information sharing on teams requires definition because not everyone will have the same perspective on what to share and when. Defining this will improve team communication.


Problem-solving and decision-making

When problems or challenges come up, what should everyone do? Dump the problem on the boss’s desk? Or does the team schedule a meeting to resolve it together? When a decision needs to be made, who is the decision-maker and how will they make that decision? Is the team resolving the issue or the boss? Will there be a vote or a unilateral decision? How are decisions communicated and documented?


These questions rarely get asked in teams, let alone discussed and answered in a mutually agreed upon way. For many teams, it’s just a matter of setting aside time in already scheduled meetings to discuss and clarify. Others may need a retreat with a facilitator to help the team navigate differing opinions of how to solve problems and make decisions. Either way, these conversations need to happen to have productive teamwork.


Behaviors

How people are expected to act and react within a team are expectations that are just as important to define as how to run a meeting. This pertains to how to behave when questions are asked, or work is challenged. The teamwork expectation might be to, first¸ assume the best out of others. Most colleagues have good intentions (despite maybe sounding otherwise). Start here. Then, if it feels like an attack, avoid reacting. Instead, ask questions to fully understand the other person’s perspective.


Other behavioral expectations include setting guidelines for assigning work to others without them present, and conversational turn-taking. Meaning, no one dominates a discussion, and everyone is expected to speak up. Depending on the level of a team’s dysfunction, a facilitator might be helpful in setting a team on a productive path toward behaving in ways that support and foster effective teamwork.


Clear and consistent expectations are at the center of teamwork. Teams that make them known and have mutually agree to them will not only perform better over time, but they will create the kind of work environment we all crave to be a part of. Establish these expectations one-by-one. Start small, knowing that over time more will be set, and teamwork will shift in new and better ways.


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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.

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