Team Dynamics: Setting Clear Expectations

Micah Renck September 10, 2019

This semester on Tuesdays we’re taking a deep dive into
Young Life team dynamics. If you missed the first couple posts, check them out

This third post in the series was written by Micah Renck.

“Nothing I have to offer is enough.”

That was my attitude towards leading Young Life College. The problem wasn’t my failure to fulfill leadership duties, nor was the problem that my team didn’t value me, rather, it was a classic case of miscommunicated expectations.

Expectations can leave us frustrated, misunderstood, and ineffective.

When I took the Emotionally Healthy Relationships course, I learned that I cannot be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature. It also taught me a skill that’s proven helpful as a Young Life leader: Clarifying expectations.

After leading Young Life for two years, I’ve witnessed several examples of poorly communicated expectations—resulting in hurt feelings, broken relationships, and burnt out leaders.

I’ve also experienced the side effects of miscommunicated expectations in my own leadership:

My fiancé, Joe, and I lead Young Life College. At the start of last school year, we decided to clarify our commitment. Rather than being spread thin with 2-3 weekly events on top of full-time jobs, family commitments, and spiritual self-care, we offered to take the lead on 1-night a week.

We communicated to our team that we’d plan and execute Campaigners on Thursday nights. Our team agreed. However, as the semester unfolded, Joe and I sensed frustration from our team.

We were regularly asked to participate in activities on nights and weekends outside of what we had said “yes” to. As a result, we regularly said “no” to added activities. Because of this back and forth—resulting from misunderstood expectations—all parties felt frustrated. Here’s the breakdown of our expectations versus our team’s interpretation:

Our spoken expectation of our commitment:

  • Leading and planning Thursday nights.
  • Pouring into key students and student leaders.
  • Attending monthly team dinners.

Our unspoken expectation of our commitment:

  • Doing the above, plus:
    • Participating in weekend retreats, weeklong trips, and other weeknight events as our other commitments allowed—we would vocalize when we were able to participate, rather than saying every time we were not.

Our team’s spoken expectation of our commitment:

  • Leading and planning Thursday nights. 
  • Pouring into key students and student leaders.
  • Attending monthly team dinners.

Our team’s unspoken expectation:

  • Doing the above, plus:
    • Maintaining relationships with 10-12 students.
    • Attending 4-6 weekend retreats and weeklong trips throughout the year.
    • Jumping in for other miscellaneous events several times per semester.

How the misunderstanding made us feel:

We felt inadequate, as though we couldn’t offer enough. We also felt obligated to say “yes” to events we didn’t have capacity for—not because of what God had asked of us, but because of our team’s frustration.

How the misunderstanding made our team feel:

Our team felt we weren’t fully invested in our team, perceiving our smaller commitment as caring less about the mission of Young Life College. They hoped that asking more of us would increase our investment.

How we could we have clarified our expectations:

These practical takeaways from Emotionally Healthy Relationships have taught me to set and clarify expectations in a healthy way, both as a Young Life Leader and as an individual.

4 Ways to Make Expectations Effective

Be Aware.

Ask yourself, “What do I expect?” Oftentimes, we have expectations that we don’t consciously identify. For example, I expect that my team will show up on Thursdays without consciously identifying it as an expectation rather than just a desire. Developing an awareness of what we expect is the first step in communicating expectations.

Be Realistic.

Consider whether your expectations are realistic. Talk about how many hours/week is realistic in relation to the season of life the leader is currently in. Setting realistic expectations can help everyone feel like they’re winning and also preserve your sanity!

Be Outspoken.

Reflect on whether you’ve vocalized all of your expectations.

Maybe you believe your volunteers should arrive 15 minutes early with all the necessary supplies. If this was never clearly outlined, your team may wonder why you often seem frustrated when they show up 5 minutes before the event. Verbalizing your expectations clearly and respectfully allows other leaders to understand your perspective.

Be On the Same Page.

 Confirm that the communicated expectations have been agreed upon. Telling a leader you want them to consume an entire can of spray cheese in 45-seconds, and clarifying that they are willing and able to do so are entirely different things. After verbalizing expectations, make a point to agree upon them with all involved parties.

Clarifying expectations and communicating effectively offer the opportunity to care for our team members. In doing so, we can use our team time to encourage one another, rather than dealing with frustration towards each other.

Lastly, clarifying expectations offers the chance to model healthy, Christ-centered communication to the students in our ministries. As leaders, we’re responsible for stewarding our relationships and emotions for His glory. My prayer is that this tool equips you to love, communicate, and serve more effectively within your Young Life team.

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