Role Expectation Mapping

Role Expectation Mapping is a series of workshop that explores, clarifies and establishes which expectations members of a group, team or project have on each other.

If you suspect that collaboration is undermined because of mismatch of expectations between people, then this exercise could boost the team’s ability to collaborate efficiently together. It is also a powerful way to jump start a new team and give them a structure to relate to.


People always have certain expectations on each other, behaviors, responsibilities, etc., but if those aren’t made clear and agreed upon among everyone – you are bound to have unconstructive conflicts, colliding agendas, difficulties in collaboration and things that fall between chairs.

Remark: If you have a need to figure out the basic description for of each role, or create detailed job descriptions, there are probably better workshops for that purpose.



I developed this exercise when working with a newly formed Tribe (Department) at Spotify. I felt there was a need among the leadership to agree upon what was expected on different roles. Some of the leaders were also new in their roles and I wanted to expose what others expected from people having that role. My hopes wer that this exercise would help them to faster collaborate more efficiently together. I have since then conducted the exercise many times with different constellations of people.


Role Expectation Mapping in a nutshell

Role Expectation Mapping is a three stage rocket.


First you have interviews with people having the different roles. These interviews extracts the current expectations that those people have on other roles, as well as capturing what expectations that others are allowed to project on themselves. Each group is interviewed individually.

 Once all interviews have been held there is a discussion meeting where participants can debate and question the results from the interviews. The output of this meeting is understandment of others point of view, clarification of notes from the interview and knowledge about where opinions diverge.

Finally there is the consensus meeting where the participants formulates five bullets that captures the most important expectations for each role. Only the bullets that everyone agrees upon are kept.


Possible situations

This exercise is designed to be run with a full team, a department, or even a full company. It’s designed to create an inclusive result through consensus. It can be run with different kinds of teams on different levels. For example…

The Development team

Example of roles in a development team:

  • Programmer(s)
  • Designer(s)
  • Tester(s)
  • Scrum Master
  • Product Owner
  • Manager(s)


The Management team of a department

Example of roles in a department:

  • Hiring Manager
  • Product Owner
  • Scrum Master
  • Department Manager
  • Release Coordinator


Deciding upon the roles

Before you start you have to decide which roles to include. I suspect that for the most of the time the roles are pretty obvious. However, you don’t want too many. Four, five or six roles are probably a good number. Also, you really want to talk about Roles – not persons.


If you have too many roles, the discussions might risk get too detailed on the work itself and less on behaviors and responsibilities. Also, if many of the roles you define maps to single persons, you probably want to rethink. You want to talk about expectations on people having a certain role – not the persons themselves.

Note: When I do this with teams, I sometimes add one more role – the team itself. Within a team we have expectations on each other, but we probably have expectations on how we should behave as a team as well. These are also valuable to capture and discuss.


Step 1 – Interviews

The first step is to gather data. For every role, invite the people having that role to a meeting. The goal for that meeting is to gather as much input as possible with regard to those people’s expectations on other roles. 60 to 90 minutes should be enough.

Paint the roles on the whiteboard with the interviewed group in the middle.

InterviewStart with asking them what their expectations are on people having the other roles. For example, let’s say you have the interview with the product owners. Ask them what their expectations are on a Scrum Master. Collect their feedback on the whiteboard below the corresponding role. Make sure that the notes are clear so that others can understand them later. Move on to the next role.

When all roles are covered it is time change the focus to themselves. Ask the participants to list expectations that are fair for others to have on them, i.e. what expectations are others allowed to have on people having their role?

Don’t be too rigid in the order. If you feel that the pace slows down, jump between the roles and try out different perspectives. You can always go back to a previous role and continue on that one whenever you want to.

The result might look something like this (picture to the right).

When all roles have been interviewed you put the data into a PowerPoint (or similar) so that you can print it out and make copies for the next workshop, the Discussion meeting. (Read more below – Aggregating the the results)

What if the group is too big group?

If the group is too big (i.e. bigger than 5-6 people) you probably want to select a subset as representatives. For example, if you have five Scrum teams and want to interview team members, have the teams select one representative each for the meeting.

What if the group is too small?

Some groups are small. For example, there is probably only one Department Chief Manager.

Capturing comments and mysteries

The interviews sometimes reveal a lot more than you ask for. A good idea is to have an extra space on the whiteboard to capture extra comments, raised concerns or exposed mysteries. I usually write down “Comments and mysteries” as a header and then continuously list remarks that pops up with a red pen.

Doing this makes the group feel that they are being taken seriously. You should also explain that what we write in this list will be shown to everyone in the next meeting, i.e. they should make sure that they language is proper and that they can stand up for their opinions even in a bigger group.


Aggregating the results


When the interviews are over you want to summarize the results into a document or presentation. You want to group the summary so that each page lists all expectations for directed towards a single role. The summary should show which group stated each expectation.

On the last page you include all lists of “Comments and Mysteries” from the interviews.


Prepare people for the second meeting

To help people prepare for the second meeting it could be a good idea to send out the summary to the participants a couple of days prior to the meeting.

Instruct the members to print out the document and then highlight statements they agree with with a green pen, and statements they disagree with or don’t understand with a red pen. Ask them to choose which three red marked statements they really want to discuss at the second meeting. (They are of course allowed to choose from the “Comments and Mysteries” page as well.) Tell them to bring their copy of the summary with them.


Step 2 – Discussion meeting

The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the outcomes from the interviews. You probably want to set aside two hours with a 10 minute break in the middle.

You want at least one representative per role. If you do this with a single team then everyone should attend. If you do this with a full department you probably want to limit the number of participants to 10-12 people to allow for good discussions to happen.

As preparations to the meeting, print out a couple of extra copies of the summary for those who forgot to bring their own copy.

When the participants arrive, give them a green and a red pen and have them seated. Explain that the purpose of this meeting is to be become as prepared as possible for the third and last meeting. Explain that the meeting won’t result in actions or decisions, it will result in knowledge and shared understanding of the interview outcome.

One way to structure the discussions is to simply allow the participants to take turn addressing one of their selected red marked expectation statements. I usually also set a timer for 5 minutes. If the bell rings I ask the group if they want to continue with the same discussion or move on to the next person’s red marked statement.


Your role as a facilitator in this meeting is to help the group have good discussions. You want to help them understand each others point of view. They don’t have to agree with each other, but they do have to listen.

Ask people to continue to make notes and highlight the summary with the green and the red pen.

Note: Sometimes I start with some kind of working agreement stating that “It is more important to understand than to be understood”, or “Engage in inquiries, not arguments”, etc. Sometimes I don’t. It depends on whether or not I’m concerned that the discussions will explode in unconstructive arguments or not. I’ve always been wrong about my concerns so far and in retrospect realise I’ve should have done the opposite to what I did…

Why spend a full meeting only talking?

If you would rush the group into the consensus meeting (where they actually are supposed to agree upon the final expectations) without going through a solid “Groan Zone”, there will be no buy-in and the results will be weak.

Unless the group have a shared understanding and appreciates others point of view (reached through discussions and debates), the outcome can’t become inclusive (i.e. covers all participants needs and point of view) and the sense of agreement will be far from strong.


Allow room for continued discussions

Don’t book the third meeting too close to the second one. You want to give the participants some time to think, and also make it possible to continue the discussions by the coffee machine, in other meetings, while out to lunch, etc. One or two weeks in between the meetings is probably good.


Step 3 – Consensus meeting

This is the last meeting. This is where it all comes together. You probably need to allocate three hours for this meeting, with a ten minute break in the middle.

Make sure people bring their own summary containing their notes to the meeting. As preparation for the meeting you want to write down the names of the roles as big headings on the whiteboards. Below each heading, create five bullets with no text. You also prepare an area which you title “Unresolved”.


If there aren’t enough whiteboards you can always use magic flipcharts instead. The important thing is that it needs to be possible to easily erase and replace text.

Launching the meeting

Once participants have arrived, hand out a black whiteboard pen to each person, and have them seated.

Explain that:

  • When the meeting is over, each role will have 5 bullets with text that summarizes which expectations we have on a person having that role.
  • We will leave the room cheering and celebrating the fact that we have agreed upon many things, and uncovered areas where we disagree.
  • We will spend the first two hours writing the bullets together.
  • We will spend the last hour voting on every single bullet. Only those that no one objects against will be kept.
  • Everyone is allowed to add text to bullets on any role.
  • Anyone is allowed to rephrase what someone else has written.
  • Anyone is allowed to erase what someone else has written.
  • When in disagreement on bullets, or on the way to formulate them – we engage in discussions! We will try to phrase the bullet so that everyone agrees upon the formulation.
  • When we can’t agree upon a bullet we park it by writing it down in the “Unresolved” area.

Make sure everyone understands the procedure. When that is done, simple ask the participants to grab their black pen and approach the role where they would like to start.

Parking topics in “Unresolved”

Your role as a facilitator is to spot where people seems to disagree and encourage discussions. When failing to reach a conclusion you can suggest that the topic is added to the “Unresolved” list for now and that we can re-address it later. These may, or may not, actually be re-addressed. It all depends on the time and where the discussion takes the group. No matter what, just listing them as unresolved is about being truthful on where we disagree and enables the group to move and avoid getting stuck on a specific topic.

Before and after the break

When it’s five minutes before the break, ask people to pause ongoing discussions and to take a tour around the room. Ask the participants to carefully read the bullets that have been written so far for each role. When they have read all bullets they leave the room and take ten a ten minute break.

When people are back from the break instruct them to continue wherever they please, they don’t need to continue from where they left of.

To give participants a sense of time you can as a facilitator periodically announce how much time they have left before the voting part of the meeting starts.

Consensus voting

When there is a hour left have people take another tour. Have a short break. After the break, ask them to sit down.

Explain that we now will vote on every single bullet. Only the bullets that no one objects to will remain. Thumb-voting will be used for voting.


Thumbs up mean “I agree! This reflect my expectations and the statement is well formulated”.

thumb_blue Thumbs sideways mean “I have concerns about the formulation” or “I don’t necessarily disagree but I want to discuss the bullet more”.
thumb_red Thumbs down means “No. I don’t agree that this is a valid expectation for that role.”

Start with any role. The participants representing that role stands up and presents the bullets for the role. I always choose the role representatives to present the bullets because it’s about them. If they don’t relate or agree with the expectations this whole series of workshop has been in vain.

The bullets are read on at a time. For each bullet there is a vote of thumbs. Instruct the participants to decide upon a vote. When one has made up your mind, you raised a closet fist in front of you. When everyone shows closet fists, you count to three. On three everyone reveals their vote. If everyone votes thumbs up, awesome! You have consensus and can quickly move on to the next bullet.

If you have any thumbs down, ask these participants why they voted “No” and what needs to be changed in order for their vote to change to a “I agree”. Allow a brief discussion. If the discussion continues for longer than a couple of minutes, erase the bullet and move it to the “Unresolved” list, and move on to the next bullet.

If you have no thumbs down but a couple of people have voted sideways, have them speak their mind and explain their concern. If the statement can be tweaked or clarified, thats great. If not, ask them if they want to move the bullet to “Unresolved” or if they are okay with the current formulation now that they’ve had a chance to share their concern.

As a facilitator, make sure you carefully manage the time spent on each role so that you will be able to go through all roles and all bullets before you run out of meeting time.

Closing the meeting

As soon as the last bullet has been handled, celebrate with an aplaude! The group has just accomplished something great and truly challenging.

Explain what will happen next. How will the results be communicated and used? What will happen to the “Unresolved” list and how will it be handled?

Wrap up the meeting with a sharing-round. Ask everyone, in order, to share what they think was the best thing with this Role Expectation Mapping exercise? Favourite aspect? Discussion? Insight?


Possible next steps

Communicate and discuss results

If you mapped expectations for a whole department it probably means that only a subset of all employees did participate. If that is the case; the results needs to be presented and discussed with every team and person.

Address “Unresolved” topics

If you don’t naturally have forums that discuss continuous improvements (such as retrospectives in teams and at management level) you probably need to get started with those to address the “Unresolved” list and the learnings from “Comments and Mysteries”. Failing to address any of them could be fatal to moral and deeply undermine trust in managers and leaders.

Put up nice posters

Do a nice, graphical, poster of the final results. Have them printed on A2 or A3 and put them up around the office.

Use the outcome as input to one-on-ones

If you as a coach have one-on-one sessions with people, you could bring a printout of the summary to the next meeting. Ask how well the person feels he/she lives up to the expectations. Do they feel the expectations are fair? In which areas do they like to improve?

2 responses on “Role Expectation Mapping

  1. What kinds of expectations do you try to surface in the sessions?

    Are they geared towards metrics (Product Owners expect Developers to give estimates that are accurate +/-15%), or behaviours (QA expect Developers to dev test their code before handing to QA), or fuzzy feel-goods (Developers expect Product Owners to communicate user stories in a respectful manner)?

    And how do you steer participants back to focus on expectations if they start to misunderstand what they should be?

    1. When doing the workshop I try to steer the expectations towards describing behaviors. Fuzzy-feel-goods can be valid too sometime. Some expectations might seem fuzzy-feel-good to me but surfaces something important within the group.

      How I do this depends of course depending on the situation. I try to give examples. I encourage them not to use the word “responsible” but instead be specific about what he/she expects that person to do. I encourage discussion to make sure the bullets don’t become superficial but are clear and understood by everyone.

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