What are some of your daily expectations

Why managers have unrealistic expectations of their team's capabilities

Do you know what Theodore Roosevelt, the Winklevoss twins, Stephen Hawking and Anderson Cooper have in common? They were all competition rowers.

Team rowers must work together in perfect alignment to win. The oars of all eight team members must enter and leave the water at the same time, at the same angle and with the same force. If a single rower deviates, the entire boat is affected.

A rowing team that does not work together in alignment will not win any races.

One of the biggest challenges for any company is making sure everyone works together in a consistent manner. When everyone is on the same line, everyone understands their role in the team, sees how their work fits into the whole, and helps achieve the company's goals.

Alignment is an important part of success, but it is overlooked and underestimated by many companies.

Difficult waters between managers and employees

One of the most surprising findings from our Operational Excellence Report 2018 is how different managers and employees assess the performance of the teams.

Executives feel that their teams are running like “well-oiled machines” that can easily scale, while non-managers have much less confidence in their performance. It is difficult to say whose views reflect the real situation more precisely, but the existing gap already indicates that communication is not going smoothly.

If the managers are right and their teams are working at the top level then either it is not obvious or it is not communicated to the teams. And if the non-managers have the more precise perception, then it is up to the managers that they do not notice problems or do not see opportunities for improvement.

We uncovered three reasons managers may have unrealistic expectations of how their teams will perform, and identified certain tactics you can use to ensure everyone works on the same line and in concert going forward.

1st reason: You are overly optimistic

Everyone is naturally biased to see their work in a favorable light. Psychologists call this phenomenon illusory superiority. Because we tend to see our own abilities better than they actually are, managers' self-reported metrics are unlikely to give a very accurate picture of a team's actual performance.

Nicholas Bloom, professor of economics at Stanford University, led a decade-long study of management; 15,000 companies in 30 countries were involved. The results are pretty clear: bad leaders don't know they are bad.


Good leaders recognize that they have this bias and need to overcome it. They often seek the opinions of their co-workers and try to take on multiple points of view; on the other hand, bad executives are to a strange degree convinced of their wrong assumptions.

Confidence is often confused with competence. Most urgently, leaders who need to improve their practices may believe they are doing great and convince their managers to do so. This is a dangerous state of mind that offends teams and is very dangerous for a company.

The solution:

Developing self-awareness is the first step in solving this problem. Leaders need to become aware of their inherent bias and acknowledge that their views may be biased.

“To know what you know and to know what you don't know, that is true knowledge.” - Confucius

When we understand that our perceptions can be flawed, it is time to ask our team for their opinion. Make sure you enable regular discussions with your co-workers in which everyone can be open and honest without being accused of expressing an unpopular opinion. According to a study by Google, psychological security is an unmistakable hallmark of a high-performing team and an effective manager.

The second step is to increase the amount and quality of data your management team can access. Define key metrics and indicators of success as an organization and review this data regularly. Increased transparency about what is being measured and how successful everyone is (including management) creates trust and a common understanding.

2nd reason: You are too far removed from everyday business

As employees rise to management positions, their focus shifts away from directly executing tasks towards solving employee problems. Senior management meetings, reporting, and other responsibilities that come with a management title add to the gap between the manager and their team in their day-to-day work. Some organizations have far too few layers in their administrative hierarchy, which further removes the daily challenges faced by their teams.

If upper management does not understand what the lower layers are doing, unfair expectations arise and teams are doomed. This problem is exacerbated when there is feedback from above to employees, but not from below to management. Without 360-degree feedback, bad management continues unchallenged while serious problems loom on the horizon.

The solution:

It is imperative for managers to truly understand their team's work, even if they are not directly involved in the work. Maintaining this knowledge is the only way in which one can develop one of the most important leadership qualities: empathy. By truly appreciating the work of the employees and how they are feeling, you have the opportunity to control their workload and prevent burnout.

To begin to develop such an understanding, document all processes and workflows together with your team. Roll up your sleeves and occasionally lend a hand or speak directly to your team about specific projects or tasks.

It is important that managers get a bird's eye view, but you shouldn't be afraid to delve into individual employees and their projects and tasks. And above all: be present. Managers who follow their words with actions build trust and confidence in their teams and thus achieve greater success.

Finally, although many management skills are learned through experience, professional training very quickly increases a manager's effectiveness. Introduce 360 ​​° reviews where teams provide feedback to management. This practice helps to highlight the most important challenges and opportunities for improvement and to align the team precisely with them.

3rd reason: You don't feel the competitive pressure

Success can stagnate if some departments or levels of the company do not feel competitive pressure on their heels. Managers of teams who repeatedly perform the same tasks can easily get the feeling of being a “well-oiled machine”. But the workers “at the front” are likely to see it differently - they may have ideas on how processes could be improved, or they may know something about advances at competitors and about trends that pose great threats or opportunities.

In today's digital world, disruptors could be just around the corner. Knowledge has a half-life. Technology evolves in exponential steps. When leaders lose touch with their actual work, they lose sight of what it takes to stay ahead of the competition.

The solution:

One of the best ways to improve management is to increase competition, says Stanford's Nicholas Bloom. A healthy level of competition spurs everyone in the organization to improve focus and increase creativity.


Learning from others, both inside and outside their industry, helps managers tackle old problems in new ways. This also includes your team - ask the team which trends or developments you find exciting and which parts of your process have a braking effect and should be tightened.


The way to stronger leadership

Organizational alignment is the key to success in the on-demand economy. Full alignment is the only way businesses can meet the high expectations of today's consumers.

Workers need to know how what they do affects the bigger picture, how it relates to the work of others, and what the outcome is. To ensure consistent results, managers need to know exactly what their teams are capable of, what strengths and weaknesses they have.

When managers and teams are aligned towards the same goals, it drives employee satisfaction, better employee retention and higher performance.

Our e-book "Working Excellent: The Wrike Way" is based on the knowledge we have gained from working with more than 16,000 high-performing teams. It's packed with practical suggestions and strategies to keep your team aligned on common goals and to work together more effectively. Fill out the form below to get a free copy today!