Setting Expectations
a tool for clear communication

The Gist

  • Setting expectations with others is one of the most effective tools of getting things done,
  • These do not need to be inflexible, as
  • They represent points of reference,
  • Help create an agreement between individuals, an
  • Bring balance to relationships.

These can be used in may types of agreements.

  • Timelines
  • Actions
  • Effort / Scope of Work

Why does this matter

Failing to set proper expectations, or any kind of expectations results in frictions with others. Therefore, in the workplace, they are essential.

In personal relationships, expectations are mostly implicit, and not every expectation needs to be made explicit, but some can definitely benefit from naming these out.

Setting effective expectations

Setting expectations is a habit, and setting effective expectations requires deliberate practice.

It is one of the hardest skills any leader or partner

It is probably one of the hardest skills to cultivate.

The Coaching Habit’s 7 Questions

The Book (read it)

The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier


  • Coaching is a habit
  • Habits are hard to change
  • Good coaching requires deliberate practice
  • These seven questions help coach effectively (a Socrates like method of asking questions that help individuals reach solutions on their own).

The Questions

  1. What is on your mind? (The kickstart question)
  2. And what else?
  3. What is the real challenge here for you? (The focus question)
  4. What do you want? (Foundation question)
  5. What do you want from me? (Lazy question)
  6. If you say yes to this, what must you say no to? (Strategic Question)
  7. What was the most useful here for you? (Learning Question)

Take Aways

Rules of thumb

  • The answers are within, we need to find them, and help other find them
  • Do not take responsibility of others
  • Focus is key
  • To change a habit identify:
    • the trigger, (the hardest thing)
    • the behaviour that needs to be replaced with a new behaviour, and finally,
    • the reward

As a lead, help team members

  • address their concerns
  • dig deeper into the challenges they face, help see them for what they really are
  • get to the point
  • understand the desired outcome
  • ask for help
  • understand the tradeoffs
  • get feedback

Cone of Uncertainty

Describes the evolution of uncertainty as a project or task moves forward


In the beginning of a complex project, it is very difficult to estimate the level of effort it will take to complete it.

At this point in the project there are many unknowns that will influence the amount of work needed to complete the project.

As the project progresses, the uncertainties become known, and therefore, more predictable, making it easier to estimate.


Break the complex project into smaller projects.

For example, break the complex project into two:

  1. The known part of the project
  2. The unknown part of the project

Then estimate the known part of the project.

It is likely that by the end of the known part of the project, the unknown part of the project will become apparent.

Parkinson’s Law

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion


Work is like a gas. A gas expands to fit the volume of its container. If there is no container, it keeps expanding.

In the same manner, work expands indefinitely.


There will never be enough time to complete any work. It can go on indefinitely.

Therefore, in order to have time for other things outside of work, it has to be time-boxed,


  1. Limit the time to do a task
  2. Limit the scope
  3. Or Both

80/20 Rule (aka. Pareto Principle)


The rule of nature that describes disproportionate relationships.

Officially, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

What is the minimum amount of effort that will bring the maximum results.

This applies to almost everything in nature.

Take aways

  • First focus on the 20% of tasks that are going to bring 80% of the value. Also known as the the “low hanging fruits”.
  • Don’t get hanged up on the numbers, ie. 80/20. They vary by case study.

Tuckman Model


Every team relationship between two or more individuals goes through these stages:


  • Team Relationship is made, teams are formed
  • People learn about each other
  • Strengths and Weaknesses are understood
  • Usually, individuals want to get along, and therefore, there are no dramas
  • Productivity increases slowly, but improves over time


  • Turbulent period and quite stressful
  • Patience runs out
  • Individuals start challenging each other
  • Some relationships are ended, people get fired
  • Productivity sometimes halts or reverses


  • Relationships normalise
  • Individuals start acting as a team
  • Risky times, as individuals fall into routines
  • Productivity improves again


  • The holy grail of teams productivity
  • Teams members are able to anticipate each other
  • Productivity is highest

Take aways

  • Be patient and steady during the Storming phase
  • During the Norming phase, there is a big risk to revert back to Storming or even to Forming if new people need to join the team
  • Not guaranteed teams will ever reach the Performing phase
  • To get to the Performing level teams must apply a deliberate effort and hold a coherent dream

Cone of Experience

How People Learn

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.

– Confucius


People generally remember:

  • 10% of what they read
  • 20% of what they hear
  • 30% of what they see
  • 50% of what they see and hear
  • 70% of what they write and say
  • 90% of what they say as they do

Take aways

  • Embed as many senses as possible into the learning process
  • Learn to Teach what is being learned