IIW Minnesota

Align Expectations for Better Outcomes

We all bring our own box of expectations to a relationship, whether it’s with coworkers and clients or family and friends. We assume people know what’s in our box and we know what is in theirs. But we can’t see what’s inside.

Breakdowns in any relationship are most commonly caused by having different expectations and understandings. There is a way to avoid them and gain stronger relationships and better outcomes. Here’s what we find works with clients (and our internal team): 

Step 1: Establish the starting point.

There are a few key areas that teams should set expectations around when working on a project:

  • What do we want to accomplish? A thorough understanding of the project vision and goals is critical.
  • What tasks are needed and who is responsible for each task?
  • When does this need to be completed? Will we break it into phases?
  • How often should we get together during the development so that timely adjustments can be made?
  • Will the project establish the budget or does the budget exist and we need to assess it against the expectations? Cost, quantity and quality always matter and we need to strike the right mix based on the desired outcomes.

This requires a combination of big-picture and detailed thinking. Understanding expectations from the start is important. They should be written and shared so that misunderstandings (or further unstated expectations) are minimized. This may be documented in a formal contract or perhaps in a team action plan.

Aligning expectations with everyone involved is critical. This is why walking through a contract (or action plan) is so important. It helps to breakdown assumptions, uncover expectation gaps and establish a shared set of expectations.

Step 2: Understand their communication style.

Effective communication in a relationship requires us to know the other person’s communication style and preferences.

A project schedule, for example, can be done with an incredible amount of detail with color-coded charts and bar graphs or in a simple, clear and concise view. Both serve a purpose. Different people have different preferences. We tend to communicate based on our own style and preferences, when we should be communicating for our specific audience. Knowing our audience, what works for them and the degree of detail needed is critical to effective communication.

Step 3: Stay aligned.

This step is easy to miss. We can think the work is done with the initial alignment. Yet, situations constantly evolve and expectations can keep changing. New people join the team, while others leave. Maintaining alignment requires us to keep communicating, asking good questions and seeking clarity.

Effective leaders do more than manage expectations; they keep them aligned among all team members. The first may foster satisfaction, but the latter is what creates loyalty and the greatest success. And isn’t that what we all want in relationships?