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!

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.

Climbing the Self Management Mountain Range

Self management may mean different things to different teams depending, among other things, on the scope in which they are being self managed. I’ll give you an example. In Scrum we say that teams are self organised, but what does that mean? Does it mean that they can distribute tasks among team members as they find appropriate? Sure. Does it mean they can decide on how to take days off? Maybe. Does it mean they can decide how to increase the salary of someone within the team? Eeeeh, What?

This model is a simplification of this very complex topic and help managers, coaches and leaders in their approach to self management and delegation.

After several years of working with self managed teams in different countries, we found that Self management is very much like climbing mountains. It can be enjoyable and healthy but also challenging and dangerous. It’s definitely not for everyone and the higher you wanna go, the more practice and preparation you need. You can easily reach a low peak but you need training before you can climb a higher challenge. In the following model, we show the different peaks you will find while climbing towards self management, where to start and where to move next.

The self management mountain range, is based on real mountains (can you guess the names based on their shapes?) and each one of them represents a step towards a more mature self managed group.


We’ll write separate posts to describe what each mountain looks like, with real life examples of teams that we’ve coached or found at the different levels. Are you ready to start climbing? Let’s start with Mount Fuji!

The Candies Feedback experiment

Candies feedback is a tool we use at our Barcelona office to foster a culture of feedback and continuous improvement for teams and individuals.

The procebluecandybigss is simple: every 6-8 weeks every team/department in the office ranging from scrum teams to Finance or Client Services have a few days time frame to give feedback to each and every other team, in a public and transparent way, with this format:

  • Things that the receiving team is doing great, that help the giving team or the whole organization to reach their goals
  • Things that the receiving team could improve
  • An amount of candies

The reason why we chose to use candies was to avoid any reference to money which could deviate attention from the feedback part. This exercise has nothing to do with performance review.

The amount of candies that goes together with the feedback is the part that’s a bit tricky: for every feedback session each team can give away an amount of candies that is equal to the sum of all other teams’ members:

Team No. of team members No. of candies the team can give away
Lion 7 13
Capricorn 5 15
Gemini 8 12

In this example the Lion team should give away a total of (5+8)=13 candies to Capricorn and Gemini in this edition.

In every edition of this exercise all teams give away their candies based on the feedback they give and they have to give all their candies away. The Candies Feedback application we developed in one of our hackatons suggests by default this amount to be equal to the number of people in the receiving team, which means that a “neutral” feedback should be associated with one candies per person in the receiving team as in the example above. Similarly, a positive feedback should be associated with an amount of candies greater than the suggested one and a negative feedback should be associated with an amount smaller than the suggested one:

Giving team Receiving team No. of candies
Lion Capricorn 3 (out of 5)
Lion Gemini 10 (out of 8)

In this example, in this edition the Lion team chooses to move two candies in favour of the Gemini team, perhaps because their contribution to the organization’s goals or to the Lion team’s goals has been a great one (or maybe because Capricorn team’s contribution has been lower than expected).

Once the round of feedback is closed, every team receives a full report of all the feedback that the other teams have given to them, plus the sum of candies:

Giving team Receiving team No. of candies
Capricorn Lion 6 (out of 7)
Gemini Lion 8 (out of 7)

In this example, the Lion team receives (6+8)=14 candies (something’s going on between Capricorn and Lion, these two teams don’t get along well together…)

Not only each team gets to know what the others say about them: everyone can see everyone else’s feedback and amount of candies, that is, what is said during each edition is completely public and visible to everyone in the office.

Lastly, a big bowl of real and yummy candies is available for all teams to take their part as resulted in the feedback round.



Experiment results

We have run a dozen editions of this experiment in our office. We started with a cheap and disgusting excel spreadsheet and later on developed our own application for that. But what we did not compromise on was office-wide participation: since day one we asked all teams in the office to enter feedback. Most people first reacted to this new experiment just by ignoring it. When urged to complete feedback before the due date, many said things like “We have real work to do” or “I have nothing to say because I do not work with anyone else in the office”. Getting a full round of feedback from everyone was a very tough task at the beginning, as we had to face big resistance to this novelty.

The first edition results caused big shock to some: the very fact that results were public, even if largely advertised beforehand, generated panic reactions in some teams, and a big “Hallelujah” in others.

Over time, teams got used to this exercise and peer pressure started to build up: teams who did not take the exercise seriously or did not give feedback were urged by other teams to do so, taking a load off the organizers’ minds. The “I don’t know what others do” excuse however kept going on for a while. We addressed this in two ways: by asking the complainers to get out of their silos and ask, and by asking the complainees to give visibility of what they do with presentations, demos and other ways of being transparent.

High frequency has been a concern for some teams for a while. We started with a 4-week cadence and after several rounds of feedback on the exercise itself we reduced it to 6 weeks and then to 8 weeks. The key was to create the habit first, and then to start including changes. As of now, we are considering to run the exercise on demand.

One to one phase

Thanks to their inclination to self-management, our scrum teams have taken this game to its next level: at the end of every edition they share between their members all the candies that team has received with same feedback-based mechanism. In the previous example each Lion team member has (14/7)=2 candies to completely give away among the other team members:

Lion team member Candies received
Captain America 2 (out of 2)
Wonder Woman 4 (out of 2)
Superman 1 (out of 2)
Green Lantern 2 (out of 2)
Flash 0 (out of 2)
Professor X 4 (out of 2)
Punisher 1 (out of 2)

In this example, Wonder Woman has had a great edition, while Flash has something to improve according to his own teammates. As per the team phase, we deem very important that real and actionable feedback is given together with the candies.

We deem very important that real and actionable feedback is given together with the candies.


Over time we have applied some changes to the original concept to answer to participants’ feedback about their experience with this game:

  1. Teams now can throw candies away instead of giving them all to other teams: this means that teams can throw candies to a bin, to say that no other teams really deserve those. This is a very strong message that this team has some unmatched expectations
  2. There are extra candies: in every edition there are a few extra candies to give away on top of the normal ones and these can be used to appreciate one team without necessarily take something away from another one