Staying on the Same Page: Avoiding Role Confusion in Your Business

Being a part of a young, hungry start-up is exciting. The camaraderie and energy developed by a small team working long hours to create a product or achieve a goal is real and can bode well for a company’s future. But that growth can be endangered when it’s not clear exactly who should be doing what within the budding organization.

“Role confusion” is a real threat to companies both small (up to 20 employees) and mid-sized (20 to 200 employees), especially as they scale up to their ideal operational sizes. Your team may have clearly defined goals but giving team members too much freedom and too few boundaries in their specific roles in achieving those goals can result in wasted time and energy as individuals jockey to protect their perceived turf or focus on establishing their personal power and influence within the organization. This situation is made worse when there’s a legitimate issue that requires attention, as it can be unclear whose responsibility it is to address it.

The key to preventing role confusion in the first place is being clear with potential new hires about exactly what their position entails. HR professionals refer to this as a Realistic Job Preview. This can take the form of videos, job tours, verbal presentations, or written brochures. Provided during the hiring process, they address employee expectations as to specific duties, the number of hours new hires will be expected to work, and what the company culture is like. Being upfront and clear in this way is also a valuable form of self-selection, as candidates may take themselves out of the running for a job if they feel it’s not the right fit for them.

Another key project management tool to prevent role confusion that’s suitable for teams both big and small is known as RACI, an acronym for “Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed.” RACI is a chart-based tool used to identify each team member’s roles and responsibilities on a given project. Essentially, projects are broken down into individual activities, ensuring that someone is responsible for completing each activity in a timely and accurate manner. Use of a RACI chart is a good way to make sure everyone on your team is clear about what specific part they play in completing a project or achieving a goal.

In a 2012 article for the Harvard Business Review, business writer Tammy Erickson likened an efficient project team with defined roles to an emergency room team waiting for their next patient. “The condition of the next patient is unknown; the tasks that will be required of the team, ambiguous,” she writes. “But at no time while the team waits, do they negotiate roles: Who would like to administer the anesthesia? Who will set out the instruments? Who will make key decisions? Each role is clear. As a result, when the patient arrives, the team is able to move quickly into action.”

Ultimately, clarity and communication between all members of a project team – from salespeople to copywriters to designers to project managers to your company’s board members – will make for better results and happier employees. That much is clear.

Sean Plummer | Contributing Writer



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