As smaller and mid-sized companies grow – and especially when there is rapid expansion – they experience growing pains, and often face the delicate balancing act of operating lean while also supporting expansion. To optimize the talent and productivity of their teams, leaders will need to identify opportunities for process improvement. There are several things that contribute to more efficient processes and leaner teams, but one essential component of any efficient organization, big or small, is role clarity.
Role Clarity Defined
As an essential component of efficiency and productivity in the workplace, role clarity is the clear definition of one’s own responsibilities, functions, and operations, as well as the understanding of other employees’ and colleagues’ responsibilities, functions, and operations.
While it is crucial that each employee understand their own roles and responsibilities, they should also have knowledge of other teammatesroles. Often, we see two outcomes when team mates are unaware of each others’ roles: a) thereare major redundancies because everyone assumes the same responsibilities are theirs and theirs alone, or b) there are major gaps because everyone assumes someone else is responsible for certain tasks.
How to Identify a Lack of Role Clarity in Your Teams
Putting Out Fires & Working in the Moment
When you consider how your teams operate, does it seem like they are constantly putting out fires and struggle to keep up with their day-to-day activities? Is it difficult for them to plan for future success? If you’re nodding your head, first and foremost, know that you are not alone. Many leaders are familiar with the chaos of managing teams who are barely keeping their head above water.
While at first glance this may seem like a clear understaffing issue with the solution being simply to hire more staff, this move may end up making the issue worse and creating an expensive problem. That’s because hiring more staff exacerbates the redundancy and bloat that was existing before, now with more employees operating without clear direction or distinction between their roles. Additionally, hiring more staff becomes more expensive because you are adding headcount, but now you also have more productivity waste without addressing the problem.
The Hero & the Support System
Is there one person on your team who somehow finds themselves taking on all the work? Someone who is pulling all-nighters to deliver important components of major projects while still being part of every meeting? If so, you may assume that you just need more skilled/knowledgeable staff. However, that may not be the case. Hiring more staff may not be what your ‘hero’ employee and the rest of your team need. In fact, it may worsen the issue by giving the ‘hero’ more colleagues to train, sacrificing even more time that they would have spent doing work. The amount of work they will also likely hand off to new employees is minimal. However, if your “hero” employee has a clear idea of their role and responsibilities, it will be a great start to setting expectations of the separation of duties among all team members, and helps to remove the “hero complex” out of the equation and out of the team.
In both of the above scenarios, the first assessment you should make is to know what roles you need on your team based on the processes and deliverables your team is responsible for. The next step is to compare that list of requirements to what everyone on your team thinks their role is.Finally, we will need to reconcile those two as a leader and clearly define the responsibilities for each role. While it may seem silly, this is a common issue. In fact, nearly 50% of all employees lack role clarity.1
Assessing Your Team’s Role Clarity
Here are a few quick but obvious signs to look for when assessing if your team lacks role clarity:
When teams are overworked, it’s possible there’s just too much coming down the pipeline. However, this is a time when listening is incredibly important. If your people are telling you there’s too much work and they’re unable to shift to support gaps, dig deeper to determine if you may be missing a specific skill set you need to complete the work. It is crucial that the root cause is addressed, not the symptom. The symptom is the team feeling overworked because they feel there isn’t enough time in the day. But it’s possible that there’s confusion regarding role definition and hiring someone simply to do the same thing as the rest of the team is not the answer. It may be a specialized skill that, if hired correctly, could free up capacity among those trying to complete projects or tasks that they aren’t experienced in or knowledgeable of. This may be another case where the issue is really one of role clarity.
If your team is underperforming, it's unlikely the whole team is composed of underperformers. In fact, what may be happening is that one person has taken on a 'hero’ role and is doing most of the work while the others do the bare minimum. If this is the case, you have a role clarity problem on your hands.
When role clarity is not defined in an organization, it leads to confusion, a lack of efficiency, overworked employees, and higher costs. This, in turn, can lead to burnout, high employee churn, and a hinderance to further growth. Stick with us for part two of our series in which we’ll breakdown how you can gain efficiency and capacity within your teams with better role clarity, and how to implement role clarity in your company.