Roles, Responsibilities, Expectations

“Expecting something to happen will not make it happen.”[1]

Often when dealing with issues in a workplace, ‘communication’ is used as the scapegoat for team, or individual, issues, or as a description for what is wrong with the organizational culture. Lack of communication may be a problem, but often it isn’t the absence of communication, the exchange of information, that is the problem, but the unspoken expectation attached to it that is the real issue.

Expectations are beliefs that someone will do something, or that something will happen, and often these are unspoken or unwritten. In a work environment, we all come with expectations, from expecting that someone would do something such as completing a particular task for a team project, or expecting that someone will take responsibility for an action that is needed in the organization. However, if this expectation is not clearly articulated and the task is not completed, then resentment, hostility, and even conflict can arise.

When examining situations where a ‘lack of communication’ has been identified as the issue, often the result is a significant increase in emails, texts, memos, or meetings. What I have found is that rather than a lack of communication, organizations are confronted with a lack of clearly articulating expectations.

Traditionally, organizations will write job descriptions, human resource policy manuals, terms of reference, or project charter documents that include roles and responsibilities, detailing the tasks and actions a particular job or team requires. It is rare to find an articulation of the expectations of the position or team, or even more rare, the expectations of an individual.

General workplace expectations centre around behaviour or attitude, and individual organizations or supervisors may have specific expectations. In my career, I have worked to articulate my expectations for both an organization or team overall, as well as with specific employees. For example, letting a project team know that I expect the work to be done, “within the timeframe set, the budget that’s been established, and to the level of quality required”. How the work is done, when or where it’s done, or how the responsibilities are allocated is up to the team to determine. I learned this lesson early in my career when I was upset that individual staff members had not done something I expected, and when I explored that further, I realized I had never actually told them what it was that I wanted them to do.

One theory I have is that expectations can be directly connected to the values of an organization or an individual. In my example above, one could say that what I expect is professionalism, which is one of my closely held personal values. In my experience, organizations that have strong value statements, that live their values and ‘walk the talk’, tend to not deal with the level of hostility or conflict that organizations without clearly articulated, and closely held values which define the behaviour and attitude of the organization.

Organizations need to not only identify the job roles and responsibilities for an individual, or for a team, they also need to define the expectations. As an employee, take responsibility to ask what the expectations are for a particular project or task. This clarity will support success.



[1]Johnson, John. (February 17, 2018). “The Psychology of Expectations”. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: