Expectations Exercise

We talk so much about feedback, its importance and how all teams should incorporate it from the very beginning and practice it often. But is it possible to provide feedback on day 1 of a team or an activity? probably not. It’s often required that a reasonable amount of time passes before you can evaluate team members or come up with process improvement ideas.

While this is true, it is also true that the sooner we start with feedback the better. This exercise is perfect to set the stage and start working together to create this culture early on. Since we do not have facts, past events or behaviours to work with, we will work with the expected future.

During this exercise we will share each other’s expectations to the group. This is a nice way of influencing each other’s behaviour before the fact in a way that the team forms a perception of what’s desired and what is not within the group.

This is how it works

Prepare a template on a sheet of paper for each one of the participants. The paper will be divided in 3 sections. Give each team member a piece of paper. The lower half is blank. The top half is divided into two sections:

  • What my team mates can expect from me
  • What I expect from my team mates

For your convenience, I have uploaded a template ready to print 🙂

Ask each member to write their name at the top of the page.

Give some time and ask each participant to fill out the top half for themselves (what my team mates can expect from me and what I expect from my team mates). When everyone is finished, they pass their paper to the left and start reviewing the sheet that was passed to them. In the lower half they write what they personally expect from that person, sign it and pass it on. Don’t forget to add your name so the owner of the sheet knows who wrote each expectation.

When the papers made it around the room, take some time to review and share observations. Explore any surprises or mismatches and discuss about them. This exercise is very safe and, in general, can be used with groups of any level of maturity, it is actually good to use it with newly formed teams, it will help the team start off on a good foot, opening up to the rest of the team and improving their understanding towards others.

On the “What my team mates can expect from me” section, reserve a small space for an optional “What can you NOT expect from me” section (included in the downloadable template) and encourage the participants to share the one thing that is a no-go or just won’t come natural for them. This will set things clear from the start and will also be a way for the team members to spark some conversations about it and get to know each other better.

As usual, it is helpful to use a large space, where everyone feels comfortable and has their own little space where they can think and write their thoughts.

Most conflicts arise when two sides have different sets of expectation so let’s bang those right on the head before is too late!

Speed Dating Feedback Experiment

We Love Feedback, I think that’s clear by now. And it isn’t just because feedback makes us stronger but also because it is indispensable in a self-managed environment. It is in fact the main way, if not the only way, in which we can regulate everybody’s behaviour.

Because feedback can be awkward and hard to do if not practiced often, you need to incorporate feedback exercises into the habit of the teams. Self-managed teams need to be able to solve their differences on their own, and only when they feel comfortable to tell each other about the good and the bad, the big and the small, can they succeed at difficult times.

The Speed Dating or Speed Feedback is another exercise that you can consider to practice feedback with your team. This format is very interesting because it allows everyone to open up a bit and practice face-to-face feedback without making them feel too exposed. There is something about the countdown, the movement around the chairs and the noise around you that somehow takes some of the pressure off.

How it works

The execution is very simple, we make two rows of chairs in a way that half of the team is sitting in front of the other half, so everyone has someone in front of them. Then the fun begins, we setup a timer, it could go from 1 to 4 minutes. I advise to start with 2 minutes. When the clock starts counting, people sitting on one side will provide positive feedback to the person in front of them. These are of course all those things that one appreciates about the other. When the time is up, is turn for the other row to provide the positive feedback for 2 minutes. Once positive feedback is complete, we go back to the row that started and ask them now to provide feedback about those things that aren’t as welcome or need to be reviewed. Again we do 2 minutes, switch and 2 more minutes. Is important to note that the receiving person should just listen.

Typical Speed Feedback setup

After we complete the cycle of both positive and not so positive feedback from both sides, is time to change pairs. For that, the most efficient method is to follow a typical round-robin algorithm which consists in just making one person fixed to their position and making everyone else move one position left or right. This way we ensure that everyone will pair up with everyone else just once. When working with odd numbers, just add an empty chair and make that one fixed. Follow the same rotation and the person sitting in front of the empty chair will just rest and observe for that one round. Sometimes people will observe interesting dynamics when resting which they can share with the group after each round.

It is completely normal to have a group of mixed backgrounds or seniority in the team. Maybe some members just joined a week ago and for them it will be very hard to provide meaningful feedback. In those cases, invite them to share their perception of what they’ve seen so far or also express what are things that they would like to see in the other person and the things they wouldn’t like to see going forward. This is also a good way to set expectations and establish some links in the relationship.

If you have a coach or facilitator, let them conduct the exercise the first few times. Once the team masters the exercise, the coach can also join the exercise, especially when having odd numbers in the team.

Always make sure you get the group share their impressions after the full exercise is complete. Was it useful? Have they learned anything? What are they planning to do with all that information?

Tip: Consider running this exercise away from the usual working space, even outdoors. A more relaxed and friendly environment will make everyone feel better, improving participation and bonding.

Feel free to use this exercise with groups of any maturity. Just explain it first so they know what to expect and play with the time. Even though this exercise has some advance elements such as face-to-face and constructive feedback, the physical dynamics of it will help cope with the emotions without too much trouble.

The format of this exercise will be better suited for some people than for others. That’s why is essential that you always combine feedback exercises. Use different formats and levels of intensity to make sure that the truth comes out one way or another. In the end is all about transparency and trust. Only then, the team will be a real team.

Fill The Gap Feedback Experiment

This is a rather advanced feedback exercise. It can become very awkward for inexperienced teams and get dangerous if not controlled properly. Sometimes the line between a genuinely positive transformation and a complete morale destruction is very thin. However, it is very powerful. All teams, even those which seem in perfect harmony at first sight, have their little bugs. Those little bugs may not seem worth addressing. Sometimes, it even feels like an overkill to discuss them as they can generate what it may be perceived as unnecessary unrest for a perfectly functioning team. I beg to differ. In my experience, those little things will become bigger and become unmanageable if not addressed early.

Here’s what you need:

Private Space

As any other feedback exercise, it is always good to provide the group with a private space where they can feel protected and relaxed. Ideally with no tables but with comfortable seats. Consider doing it outside the office, such as in a park, the beach or the terrace of their favourite coffee shop but keep in mind that it will work best when they don’t feel exposed to external people. For this exercise we will organise the group in a semicircle shape with one member in the middle, taking turns. Make sure the space allows for it. It is important to state that everything shared during the session will be kept private within the group.

2 Sentences

The drivers of this format are 2 sentences, one to express positive feelings and another describing negative emotions. It is very important that the sentences clearly state the subjects me and you. This will make it personal and will help the individuals to address each other while sharing the feedback.

Positive sentence:
It (helps/motivates/delights/pleases) me when youbecause

Negative sentence:
It (bothers/frustrates/demotivates/harms) me when youbecause

Make sure the clause because is always present and included in the feedback. The reasons behind the feedback are indispensable to drive true positive change. The recipient needs to understand the impact of their behaviour.

If somebody just says “It bothers me when you are late in the morning” without explaining why that behaviour is worth changing, it will be hard for the recipient to understand the problem and make the personal investment that takes to make true change. Why is arriving late a problem at all? Is it because we depend on that person to perform our job and we need to sync? Is it because it breaks the team’s agreement and we really care about rules? Is it because we make an effort to turn up on time and we expect the same from others? or is it because we love that person so much that makes us sad when they aren’t around?

As you can see, words and format are very important and it is important to be somewhat strict. You can cut some slack to those that struggle to find the appropriate feeling in the list but apart from that try to respect the existing sentence, otherwise it could lose strength and not be as effective. The point of this exercise it to force participants to share things that aren’t easy to share in a normal conversation. It is a good idea to acknowledge beforehand that the exercise is somehow rigid and that we shouldn’t take the resulting sentences literally.

Pen and paper

Prepare pen and paper for everyone and encourage them to take notes while they receive the feedback. Is usually interesting to focus on those things that are surprising or unexpected. In the end, gaining new information about how you come across is of most value.

Bonus: Tissues

It can help to place a box of tissues in the middle of the semicircle to show that it is totally ok to get emotional. You can also explicitly mention it during the introduction of the exercise.

How it works

Form a semicircle with all team members. Find a volunteer who wants to go first and that person will sit in the middle of the semicircle becoming the recipient for the first round of feedback. Whenever someone is ready to share feedback, it will do so by stating the 2 sentences and filling the gaps with their own words.

Depending on the group, it may help if you demonstrate the exercise by providing feedback yourself to the team or to a particular person. Show yourself vulnerable and admit how difficult this is for you too.

The goal of this exercise is for the participants to give honest feedback face-to-face. It is important that they give feedback which refers to the actions and behaviour of the recipient. Do not mix the individual feedback and the team feedback and stop discussions around changing behaviour that respond to a team agreement in place. That feedback should be handled at the team level.

Continue going around the semicircle until all participants share their 2 sentences with the recipient. Allow for the recipient to take notes and ask clarifying questions, nothing else. It is not the time to respond to the feedback provided. Encourage them to discuss the feedback received with the different individuals at a separate time.

Once everybody shared their feedback, the recipient will take a few minutes to review their notes and share their thoughts with the group.

Repeat this process for every team member.


Appreciate everyone’s participation, acknowledging how hard it is to open up and share personal opinions face-to-face. Encourage everyone to discuss topics at their own convenience and remind that all content should be kept private.