Setting expectations for research teams

Managing your team is easier if everybody is clear on your expectations for how people approach their work, what needs to be done and when it needs to be done by.

There are areas of your project where you should provide clear leadership and set expectations for your team. Where appropriate you should involve the team in decision-making; this helps build a sense of participation and commitment.

  • Working arrangements - this can include expected office (or lab) hours and the flexibility of such arrangements
  • Your availability - if you find yourself frequently away from your research team for extended periods they need to know your plans in advance. Be clear as to how often you will be available for consultation and how you can be reached
  • Division of responsibilities - make sure every individual knows not only their own responsibilities but where responsibility lies for all other parts of the project and how their work fits into the team
  • Lines of communication - everyone should be clear about who to ask about what issue(s) and how information will come to them
  • Monitoring and reporting arrangements - researchers need to know when they will need to report, to whom and how results will be measured
  • Standards of work - all should be aware of the quality and consistency that you expect from your team
  • Ethics - each member of your team should understand how they should approach their work, especially where there are ethical sensitivities
  • Deadlines - make sure it is clear when each part of the project needs to be finished and not just the final deadline.

When setting expectations make sure you:

  • communicate early, clearly and often - make sure that from the outset of a project everyone involved has a clear picture of what you as a team are trying to achieve and how you expect them to approach the task. Don't assume knowledge or that people will work the way you do; it is better to explain what is obvious than to risk misunderstandings
  • maintain two-way communication - establishing expectations works best as a dialogue. In this way you can ensure your researchers accept and understand what you are asking of them and help them develop a sense of ownership over the project. You will also want to understand what their expectations of you are
  • be realistic - there are few things more detrimental to a researcher's performance that being burdened with unrealistic expectations, whether the complexity of the task assigned to them or the time-frame available for it to be completed. Make sure you have a clear picture of the capabilities of your team before setting expectations. You may also be required to manage the expectations that others have of your researchers and intervene if you fear requests from elsewhere in your institution or outside are burdening your team with too many responsibilities
  • be prepared to be flexible - things change; either through experience or a change in circumstances, expectations that were reasonable at the start of a project may no longer be reasonable later on. The job of a manager is to realise this and adjust accordingly. Once again, if expectations change, make sure you communicate this to everyone involved.

You may also be interested in pages on monitoring performance and maintaining motivation.