How to manage expectations when collaborating

Set expectations before you collaborate.

In today’s workplace there is an emphasis on collaborative decision-making.  People want to be consulted and unilateral decision-making on the part of the leadership is rarely well received.  The challenge with being inclusive is that it is easy for your people to assume that if they are being consulted, that their input – indeed, their preference – is likely to be implemented.  When this is not the case, they can get disgruntled.  Therefore, whilst there is value in accessing the “smarts” of others, it is important that you “frame” the discussion in order to manage expectations.

Don’t consult without constraints.

One way to manage the expectations of others is to introduce them to different levels of decision-making, prior to soliciting their thoughts.

In 1973 Philip Yetton and Victor Vroom developed a Situational Leader-Participation model.  This model identified five different leadership styles and argued that the best style of leadership was determined by the situation.  We can use a version of their model to effectively frame staff expectations when seeking their input into a decision.

Here’s an example

Situation 1 – Your manager comes and tells you about the new fleet of cars. She has decided will be purchased for the workplace.

Situation 2 – Your manager comes to you and asks, “What do you think about cars?”  She hasn’t given you any context and so you indicate that you have a preference for red ones, that you really like Ferraris, and that customisation is a must.

Situation 3 – Your manager meets with you and says that she is thinking about replacing the fleet of work cars and wants to know what your thoughts are.  You now have a context.  Rather than rambling on about cars in general, you can focus your input on what you think would make the most appropriate work vehicle.   Your reply is now, “It ought to be white because that’s the safest colour. It needs to be automatic so that the maximum number of people can drive it and, since the organisation is environmentally friendly, then it ought to be electric”.

Situation 4 – Your manager convenes a group of yourself and several of your colleagues.   She provides a context for the discussion (i.e. the purchase of a new fleet of work vehicles) and says she will listen with interest to the discussion, and then she will make a decision.

Situation 5 – Your manager convenes a group, provides the context, and says that she will abide by whatever the group decides.

Who has decision-making power?

As you can see, the situations vary in context, levels of collaboration and decision-making power.

Situation 1 – is a highly autocratic decision and involves no follower input.  This sort of decision-making might be really useful under emergency conditions or when time is of the essence.

Situation 2 – is slightly less autocratic and involves some follower input, however, without any explanation.  The merit in such an undirected approach can result in information being contributed that would otherwise not be mentioned or considered.  Equally, it can result in not receiving critical information that would have been made known if the context had been given

Situation 3 – reveals the nature of the decision, therefore providing you with a context for your input; however the leader is still the person making the decision.

Situation 4 – has the leader informing the group of the context and listening to the discussion but still retaining decision-making authority.

Situation 5 – Only in the final situation does the group get to make the decision.

4 out of 5

In four out of the five situations your manager makes the decision (Yellow levels 1 to 4).  It is only in the final situation (Blue) that the group decides.  Yet, in four of the five situations, information is solicited from others.

This model can be highly useful when consulting with your staff.  Once you’ve introduced them to the model (I’ve even provided a poster for staff to have up on their walls), then you can simply prefix the conversation with a statement such as, “This is a level 3 situation. I am interested in your thoughts on…” And see what they have to say.

This approach provides context for the collaboration without setting up unrealistic expectations.

Being collaborative is great; however it is important that we manage staff expectations otherwise we could end up in the situation where they say, “My manager is always asking my opinion, but never takes my advice.  In future, I’m just not gonna bother telling them anything.”

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT!

 
 
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