The power of your expectations in shaping your teams behavior

by Jan Schiller

There’s power of your expectations in shaping your team’s behavior. We all know that a successful project manager spends about 90 percent of their time communicating. The words we choose when communicating are very powerful. What we communicate has the power to shape behavior. Sharing your expectations improves the capabilities of your teams.

I heard the story of two frogs shortly after I took the first step on my career adventure. The story goes something like this: a group of frogs are hopping to a nearby pond when two of them fall into a deep hole in the ground. The group yells and gestures to the frogs, insisting they will never get out no matter how hard they try. The two frogs still tried and tried. One frog eventually gave up and died. The other frog was able to jump out of the hole. The successful frog was deaf and thought the other frogs were offering encouragement.

The story of the two frogs made a significant and lasting impression on me, and provided a new twist on Neale Donald Walsch’s statement, “Your thoughts create reality.” I realized that setting clear expectations with my teams was the most powerful way to deliver value. I could either help them jump to success or remain in a deep hole forever.

The power of your expectations in shaping your team’s behavior


Expecting something is anticipating and considering something to be so probable that it is nearly certain. You may have heard of the placebo effect, but have you heard of the Rosenthal effect? Psychological studies have confirmed that expectations shape actual behavior. Do you expect your team to succeed? Then they will. Do you discuss the intended results of your project portfolio with optimism or pessimism? Your team will follow your lead. Do you want your teams to treat each other respectfully and work the plan to the best of their ability? Then expect it. Do you want to avoid surprises? Create a project environment of trust and expect open, honest, timely communication. Do you consider some team members to be smarter than others? You will treat them accordingly, regardless of their IQ.

Most of all, expect your teams to meet your expectations. Because expectations help shape people’s thoughts, I have found expectations to be the best motivator. Better than setting clear priorities (which you can expect your teams to understand and honor), better than providing clear direction (which you can expect them to shape, follow and question), and better than sharing the most impressive facts, the most comprehensive knowledge, the most proof, or any amount of recognition and rewards. All of that helps, of course. Instead, I keep my eye on the prize of setting and clearing communicating expectations.

Make your expectations specific, but not so specific they stifle innovation. One of my golden rules is to tell people ‘what’ or ‘how,’ but not both. I want independent thinking in my teams, and telling both ‘what’ and ‘how’ effectively removes any need to think independently. I prefer to tell people ‘what’ to ensure a shared understanding of the results expected of the project portfolio and the value the organization expects to receive. I know I’m successful when all of my teams provide the same answer when I ask them to describe the expected result. I prefer to tell people ‘how’ when someone is still gaining subject matter expertise and growing their skill set, or when someone asks.


Everyone has expectations. How well do your expectations align with those of your teams and stakeholders? How clearly are you communicating your expectations to your teams? Do you want to shift your team to produce more valuable results? Start expecting it. The best support you can give to your teams is to expect them to succeed. Use the power of your words to lift them up and create success.


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