Setting group expectations for youth and adults

Setting group expectations is a great way to be sure youth and adults knows what is expected of them.

Have you ever had a bad experience working with a group of people? We all have! Are you able to put into words what made it a poor experience? Often times it can be difficult to explain what makes group experiences bad, but we just know when it happens. As a volunteer manager working with groups of adults and youth, it’s important to start a group out right. One way to do that is by setting group expectations.

Group expectations are simply an agreed upon way the group will function. With adults, it can be rather simple to set guidelines for behavior and participation. For more information, please visit the following Michigan State University Extension articles: “From ground rules to shared expectations” by Bethany Prykucki and “How to plan a meeting that people want to attend” by Youvonne Wichtner-Zoia.

Working with youth is a bit different. Some things you’ll want to consider when setting group expectations with youth include:

  • Post the rules on a white board or poster board so there is a reminder about the agreed expectations.
  • Start by explaining to youth what group expectations are, provide an example – for instance, one person talks at a time – then ask for input from youth as the list of expectations is created. Remember, it should be the group’s expectations, not just your expectations as an adult.
  • Make it fun. Ask the kids to give a thumbs up if they agree they can work with that expectation or a thumbs down if they can’t. They can also work in very small teams to come up with a group expectation they would like to present to the larger group.
  • If youth get stuck, give them words that might help them create group expectations, such as safety, team, listen, turns, help, respect, participate, attitude, etc.
  • Be sure to keep the group expectations age appropriate. This includes:
    • Vocabulary. Be sure the words you choose are understood by the age group you’re working with.
    • Number of group expectations that are listed. Too many expectations can be overwhelming for younger youth.
    • Applicable to the situation. Be sure the group expectations you talk about are relevant to the activity you’ll be doing.
  • Keep group expectations short and concise. Remember that youth would rather be doing the activity than setting rules. Be sure not to spend so much time on setting group expectations that you lose out on time to do the activity or project.

Setting group expectations is a great way to be sure everyone knows what is expected of them. When working with youth, setting these boundaries will alleviate miscommunications, confusion and stress for youth, parents and adult helpers, as well as you – the volunteer manager. 

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