How to fix unclear roles and responsibilities in your team

fix unclear roles and responsibilities

Does your team have unclear roles and responsibilities? People end up doing a lot of work, but often it’s work that some people feel they shouldn’t actually be doing.

Sometimes these situations are great. People can jump in and gain experience in varied tasks. This helps your team members develop additional skills. The downside to this is that people in your team who like to avoid work can easily dump that work onto others in your team.

You can improve this situation by clarifying the roles of your team members.

Why unclear roles and responsibilities can be stressful

Unclear roles and responsibilities can be stressful because:

  • Your team members don’t understand how they fit into the team, resulting in difficulty in finding that “task significance”. Task significance is the degree to which people feel motivated by being able to see the difference that their job makes.
  • People do work that they shouldn’t be or don’t want to be doing
  • Team members find it difficult to develop the required skills. Their jobs are not well defined, so it’s hard to tell what skills they need.

In your head, you know what your team members should be doing. However, there is a good chance that other people in the team are confused. This means that clarifying your team members’ job descriptions is a really important step.

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Why unclear roles and responsibilities exist in teams

1. People aren’t communicating properly

If you have open communication between your team members, then it should be fairly clear what people in your team need to be doing. In mature teams and organisations, these responsibilities are formalised and documented so that people can clearly see who needs to do what.

Read more about creating open communication in your team.

2. Nobody plans very well

“So, how many people do we need to do this project?”

“Oh, probably about three.”

“OK, we’ll get three people.”

But what would each of these people do? Do they need specific skills and do you need each of them for the same amount of time, or do you need different people throughout the project?

Failing to plan work results in unclear roles and responsibilities. This in turn results in low morale for those people who were hired thinking that they would be doing job X, only to find that they need to be doing job Y (or X + Y!).

This also means that a person’s resume might say that they were performing a certain role, but in reality, they were doing something quite different. Therefore, their experience is not as developed in that area as it could be. I’ve seen plenty of situations where people have had a job title that really doesn’t match what they have been doing every day.

3. Under-resourcing is the default option

Companies are struggling in many economies around the world. As a result, the default for most teams is to be under resourced. Rather than risk hiring too many people, they’ll try the bare minimum first.

Unfortunately, often the bare minimum is what remains. People end up doing more than their normal roles require to make up the shortfall and after a while, the role definitions of these people are markedly different than what they signed up for.

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How to fix unclear roles and responsibilities in your team

1. Clarify roles in your team by finding the gaps

List the tasks you think your team members should be performing as part of their role. Use their job description as a guide. Now, write down the tasks that they actually are performing. Is there a difference? The difference includes the gaps between their perceived and actual role.

For each of these gaps, identify who in your team you think should be performing the work. Remember that somebody else in another team might actually be performing work that your team should be doing.

If the size of the gaps are large, or these gaps are resulting in stress for your team, then you should look at making a change. Use your list of gaps as the starting point to clear things up.

2. Clarify roles in your team by developing a RACI

Consider clearing up unclear roles and responsibilities by developing a RACI matrix to define the roles in the team. RACI is an acronym, which means:

R = Responsible (doing the work)
A = Accountable (will be ultimately held accountable for the work)
C = Consulted (should be consulted for their opinion)
I = Informed (should be told of the outcome or progress, but doesn’t need to be consulted).

Create a grid and write a list of the tasks on the top, and the people or roles on the left. In each cell in the grid, you need to put one or more of the RACI letters, where appropriate. An important thing to remember is that for a given task, you should never have more than one “A”. Only one person can be accountable for something.

See this post for an overview of how to create and use a RACI matrix.

Putting tasks in this matrix structure, agreeing them and communicating to your team and others sets the standard for what each person is doing. If you have this formally approved then this can be useful, but even broad agreement is enough to be helpful.

3. Clarify roles in your team by communicating properly

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

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.

Go and start clearing up the unclear roles and responsibilities, so that everyone can do their jobs well. This will improve performance, result in greater job satisfaction and reduce the ability for others to avoid doing their work.

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