Unclear Roles and Responsibilities - Main

Does your team suffer from unclear roles and responsibilities? Team members end up doing a lot of work, but is it the *right* work or are they wasting time? Are people confused about what they should be doing?

If any of these sound familiar, you can improve this situation by clarifying the roles and responsibilities of your team members.

Why Unclear Roles and Responsibilities Can Be Stressful

Unclear roles and responsibilities can be stressful because:

  • Team members don’t understand how they fit into the team, resulting in difficulty in finding that “task significance”. Task significance is what helps people feel like their job makes a difference.
  • People waste time doing work that they shouldn’t be doing, or reworking tasks they’ve already completed.
  • Team members can’t tell if they are doing a good job. If roles and responsibilities are not well defined, team members struggle to understand what “good” looks like.
  • Team conflict is common. Work is forgotten and needs to be done in a rush, or multiple people are trying to do the same work at the same time.

You probably know what your team members should be doing.

However, you need to make sure that everybody is on the same page if you are going to fix these issues and help your team stay motivated.

Learn More: 4 Job Satisfaction Killers That Are Demotivating Your Team.

How to Fix Unclear Roles and Responsibilities in Your Team

1. Clarify Roles in Your Team by Finding the Responsibility Gaps

Sometimes it can be a good idea to work out the difference between what your people are doing, and what you really want them to be working on.

Start by listing out the tasks you want your team members to be performing as part of their role. Use their job description as a guide. Hint: If they don’t have a job description, create one!

Now, write down the tasks that they actually are performing. Is there a difference? If so, this is the gap between the role you need them to play and what they are actually doing.

What often happens is that people are doing work they shouldn’t be focused on, instead of the work that you really need them to do.

Sometimes this happens because other people outside of your team may be asking them to do work. Or, your team may be volunteering to work on other things, outside of their core duties.

You can see this shown as The Gap, in the chart below.

Fixing the Gaps - Unclear Roles and Responsibilities

For every gap you find, you need to decide which role or team you believe should actually be performing the work.

Remember that somebody else in another team might actually be performing work that your team should be completing. Or, your team might be doing the work of another team which takes focus from their own jobs.

If you find big gaps, or these gaps are resulting in stress for your team, then you should look at making a change. Use your list of responsibility gaps as the starting point to have some conversations and clear things up.

 Seeing Performance Issues In Your Team? Try These Things.

2. Clarify Roles in Your Team by Creating a RACI

Consider clearing up unclear roles and responsibilities by developing a RACI matrix to define the roles in the team. RACI stands for:

  • R = Responsible: The person actually doing the work.
  • A = Accountable: The person who will be ultimately held accountable for the work, or approve it. This is often a manager (probably you).
  • C = Consulted: A person who should be consulted for their input about the work. These people could be outside of your team.
  • I = Informed: A person who should be informed of the outcome or progress of the work, but they shouldn’t really have a say in how the work is done.

Create a table and write a list of the people or roles at the top, and the tasks or functions of the team on the left. In each entry in the table, you need to put one or more of the RACI letters, as shown below.

RACI Matrix - Unclear Roles and Responsibilities

A Sample RACI Matrix

Important Notes For Fixing Roles and Responsibilities With Your RACI Matrix

  • Each task should only have one “A”. Only one person should be accountable for something. Hint: If everybody is accountable, nobody is accountable!
  • You can have multiple “R” entries for a task. This means more than one person actually performs the work, which can be quite common.
  • You can have an “AR”. This means that the person who is accountable is also doing the work.
  • “C” is for consultation only. This means the person doesn’t perform the work. Instead, you just ask for their input and feedback.
  • Try not to have too many “I”s. There is a temptation to inform everybody about everything, but you should concentrate on the people who really need to know.

Once you have created your RACI, make sure that everyone understands what it means. Ask for feedback and see whether you need to make any adjustments. It’s also helpful to let your own boss know about the matrix too, so they are clear about what your team is doing.

It’s also important to set clear expectations about following the RACI matrix. I’ve seen many teams create a RACI expecting everybody to use it, but sometimes nobody takes any notice!

Learn More:  People Won’t Follow Your Process? Do This!

3. Clarify Roles in Your Team by Getting Feedback

It’s a good idea to openly communicate with your team to test your thinking when you’re trying to fix unclear roles and responsibilities. If you feel like your team members need to clarify their roles, then it’s likely they feel the same.

Ask your team members for feedback and see whether they feel the uncertainty that you do. Some team members will stay silent even when they feel confused, so it can be useful to bring the confusion out into the open.

Remember: if the roles in your team don’t seem clear to you, then they probably aren’t clear to others either. Be sure to ask questions and clarify your understanding.

Once you make improvements to clarify unclear roles and responsibilities, everyone can do their jobs well. This will improve performance, result in greater job satisfaction and reduce the ability for people to get away with avoiding work!

Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #35: How to Create Open Communication in Your Team.

4. Clarify Unclear Roles and Responsibilities by Tracking Your Tasks

https://www.thoughtfulleader.com/leadership-coaching/When we don’t have a clear idea of what our teams are working on, things can get confusing. Make sure you’re able to track the work of your team in some way.

This may be using a system or even a simple spreadsheet. Whatever you choose to use, make sure you can monitor progress and keep an eye on the different work happening in your team.

This extra visibility will help you maintain oversight of the work of the team, but also help everybody have a greater understanding of what others are doing.

Try also meeting with your team frequently and discussing their current workload. This can be a great way to spot unclear roles and responsibilities, where there may be overlaps between team members or even other teams.

The starting point to fixing unclear roles and responsibilities is knowing they exist, so make sure you have the right oversight of the work in your team!

Learn More: How to Get Comfortable Without Controlling Leadership.

When Fixing Unclear Roles and Responsibilities, There Is No Silver Bullet

Sometimes you will work to clarify roles and responsibilities and people will still be unhappy. You will create a RACI and set expectations but you’ll still see conflict and people will keep asking for clarity on roles.

Creating a RACI matrix or using a task tracking system does not automatically fix your team problems! If this is a recurring issue in your team or organisation, there is a good chance that bigger problems are at play.

In my experience, this is often because people are scared of being blamed for something, they feel threatened or they are not happy with the role that they are undertaking.

You might need to have some difficult conversations to set expectations and work through the issues. Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” solution!

Don’t rely on a process, system or tool to fix your people problems. This is the job of leadership!

Do you have any good ideas for clarifying roles and responsibilities, or stories about when unclear responsibilities were a big problem? Share your experience in the comments below!