How are we going to work together as a team?
This is one of the first questions that every manager needs to answer when they get promoted to a management role, or when a seasoned manager takes over management of a new team.
So many new managers I have worked with do not realize how important it is to think this question through in detail, and so they fail to communicate all of their expectations with their team at the outset.
Often, when they start in a new management role, managers do not take the time to provide their direct reports with enough clarity around their day-to-day expectations for seemingly small things like meeting attendance, calling out sick, or email response time. It might feel too “micro-managing” to ask their new team to comply with specific requests or processes. Or not as important as other priorities (and we all know managers juggle lots of them!). Sometimes setting these expectations does not seem important to the manager until they get into the reality of their new role. For example, a new manager might not think it’s important to lay out norms for using online calendars until they try to schedule a meeting with their team of 8 people who have 8 different ways of utilizing their online calendars, and they can’t tell when everyone is free.
The reality is, whatever the reasons, when new managers are not clear and specific with their team about their day-to-day expectations at the beginning, the negative impacts are significant.
In the best case, if they fail to be clear about their expectations, the manager will end up having to have a bunch of smaller conversations over the course of their first few months in the role to get everyone on the same page, which is a time suck and frustrating for everyone. In the worst case, a new manager who is unclear about their expectations can lead to confusion, team conflict, eroded trust and lack of credibility for their leadership. What a mess! Luckily, the solution is simple.
Schedule a “Team Expectations” meeting early on.
I always coach new managers to have a “team expectations” meeting in the first couple of weeks with their new team. While this process is important for managers of all types of teams, it is especially critical if the team is comprised of early career professionals, since they typically do not have a lot of experience working on a team in a professional setting and may need more guidance. These meetings can feel a bit dry and like you’re doing a lot of the talking as the manager, but they are SO important.
Being clear about what you expect from your team in terms of communication, feedback, collaboration and follow through are critical to share at the outset.
You can’t expect someone to succeed if you don’t share what success looks like!
Think about the details — if you’re taking over management of a team from a different manager, it’s likely that you will communicate a little bit differently than the past manager. And it’s not fair to leave your team members guessing what you want. For example, some managers are totally OK with a text from a direct report to let them know they are going to be late for a meeting. Others want a phone call, and others might not care to know in advance, but want the employee to a follow up afterwards to explain why they were late.
As a manager, it’s important to think through what YOU need in order to manage your team effectively, and share that at the outset. Here is a list of questions to get started:
How do you want them to communicate if they are sick and have to miss work (align with your HR policy if applicable)?
What is your expectation for communicating about their schedules? (updated online calendar? email when they’ll be off site for a meeting?)
Are there any team scheduling norms to share — e.g. certain days for meetings vs focused work time?
How will you communicate about changing team and 1:1 meeting times (how far in advance to reschedule? who can reschedule? how do you reschedule?)
How will you provide them with performance feedback? (when/in what context/etc) — aka how will they know how well they are doing?
What system(s) will your team use to manage shared projects & work? (shared work plan? Slack, Basecamp or other online collaboration system?)
What is your expectation around email and phone call response time?
What happens when team members are not meeting expectations (again, align this with the HR policy at your company)?
There are probably many more you can think of for your own work context. Take time to think these through carefully, and consider meeting with your supervisor or HR team to make sure your expectations are aligned with your company HR policies. Once you have written these out, it's time to schedule your “team expectations” meeting.
During the meeting, be sure to allow space for any additions or clarifications from the team — you might have missed something or there could be a system that worked in the past that your team members want to share. Then, once the expectations document is completed and understood by all team members, you can ask everyone on the team sign it as commitment to uphold them.
Leading this type of meeting might not be the “fun” part of managing a team for many managers. But taking the time early on to be thoughtful and clear about your day-to-day expectations will provide a strong foundation for your team and your leadership.
So, managers, start by getting clear on the little details, and you’ll set your team up to make a huge impact!