See the New Year Clearly: Stop Guessing and Start Resolving Your Roles

People having an evening meeting

See the New Year Clearly: Stop Guessing and Start Resolving Your Roles

Years ago there was a popular game show called What’s My Line?, in which blindfolded celebrity panelists played “20 Questions” to determine a mystery guest’s occupation. In many companies, there’s a similar guessing game going on: “Whose job is that?” “How did that decision get made?” “What’s my part of this project, exactly?” This lack of role clarity can lead to overlaps, gaps, confusion and conflicts.

If you’re wondering whether any of this applies to you and your team, take a look at these common symptoms of fuzzy roles:

  • Some people are overwhelmed…
  • …While others fill their time with low priority tasks
  • A simple answer requires talking to multiple people
  • There are too many bottlenecks in routine processes
  • When something doesn’t get done, it’s not clear who’s accountable
  • Decisions aren’t made on a timely basis
  • There’s a general lack of action on the one hand…
  • …And too much reaction on the other

In contrast to these problems, when everyone is clear about his or her role, there’s a decrease in duplication of effort, do-overs and delays. There’s an increase in energy, accountability, and high performance.

If you’re ready to see more clearly, here’s a straightforward (though not simple) process for working with your team to clarify and align roles.

First, agree on everyone’s primary role. Ask each member of the team to create a list of his or her essential role and key responsibilities. Agree in advance on the level of detail needed. Distribute the completed lists in advance of a team meeting, asking everyone to review and flag items for clarification. (Be ready for some intense discussion and a possibly lengthy meeting.) Discuss each item as a team, noting missing or incomplete items. Decide if there are any sensitive issues that should be discussed offline.

Second, address the boundary issues. Building on the first meeting, reconvene the team to address intersections and overlaps between roles. One way to do this is to draw a large grid listing team members on one axis and tasks on the other. Completing a grid can help you quickly spot interdependencies between roles. Some teams like to use a “RACI” model to chart responsibilities:

  • Responsible – The person assigned to perform the work or task – “The Doer”
  • Accountable – The person who makes the decision and has ultimate ownership – “The Buck Stops Here”
  • Consulted – The person(s) consulted before actions are taken – “In the Loop”
  • Informed – The person(s) informed that an action has been taken – “In the Picture”

The process of clarifying roles and responsibilities doesn’t end when this charting process is complete. Leaders should treat this as an ongoing activity, being alert to the symptoms of role confusion. Since most role confusion comes from unclear or missing communications, working through a process like this as a team can be very beneficial. Take some time early this year to define and align your roles. As each person’s role becomes more clear, the team’s energy will shift from frustration to implementation and better results.