The Expectations Conversation

Possibly the most important conversation you can have with your team members

In this article we’re going to explore what I regard as the most important conversation you can have with your team members: the Expectations Conversation. By the end of this article you will understand why it’s absolutely vital to your team’s success to carry out this conversation with them individually and as a team. You will feel confident bringing such a high degree of honesty and clarity to your relationship and you will be eager to give it a go.

I first heard of the expectations conversation from Bob Pank, my 84 year old American mentor, who I used to speak to once a month on the phone. Unfortunately Bob died a few years ago now. I have found the conversation invaluable since then in my own work and life and have passed it on to hundreds of people who agree.

The expectations conversations allows you to speak with complete honesty to each other about what you expect from each other. It removes the assumptions that we all make that people are operating on the same page as us. And it also allows you to refer back to it at any later date and have difficult conversations much more easily than if things like this have never been discussed.

You should have the expectations conversation as early as you can in your relationship. So as soon as you hire someone, perhaps even before they start the job if possible. If you are in an established team, just have the conversations as soon as you can. Don’t feel awkward about having this kind of conversation, just have fun with it. Say:

“I’ve been learning about a new conversation that would have been a good idea for us to have years ago, so I thought it would be a good idea to have it now instead. It’ll help us understand each other more and work together better.“

Okay so what exactly is the expectations conversation? Well it consists of the following questions:

These are the main questions. You can add in a few bits and pieces if you need to in order to gain further clarity of expectations. Two I have added in in the past are:

The second one is great to do as a team. I recommend having the conversation with everyone individually first of all. Then it would be a great idea to get the team together and to go over the roles and why they’re important for everyone, and clarify some team expectations too. When you can all agree what the team expects of each other then everyone can adhere to it and people can be held accountable if they’re not doing it. It’s a great way to be clear about what the culture of your team is. You can say things like positive attitude, caring, supportive, no moaning or demeaning of others. This way you can ensure that it’s unacceptable for people to behave outside of these positive characteristics.

When I was training a group of people recently, someone asked whether you should give people notice of the questions beforehand. The only issue I have with this is that sometimes people can read straightforward questions like this with an imbued tone that they then might bring to the conversation. This imbued tone might not be completely positive. Personally I would prefer to bring it to the table in a meeting after we’ve had nice chat to start and to bring it with a warm and caring attitude and tone, so they know this isn’t being used to potentially beat them with a stick about, it’s about creating complete clarity and openness.

What I would suggest is that you practise it first if you can. Go through it with someone in a role play fashion and get them to do it back to you too. You will get much better and more natural with it with practise so if you can practise on someone first that’s a good thing. Then start with the people you find the easiest, those who are always positive and upbeat about things and won’t give you a hard time in any way.

You can also use this conversation, or a version of it, on your personal relationships too, especially if they’re a bit tricky, it might just help you establish a bit more honesty in a positive way and move forwards from any mistrust you are experiencing. It’s particularly great for teenagers to facilitate a conversation where they are treated more as adults than kids.