Defining clear roles and responsibilities

Hand drawing up a play on a chalkboard

Use these tips to create role clarity—and help team members do their best work

NFL coach Bill Belichick's mantra is "Do your job"—an exhortation to his players to remember their roles and responsibilities amid the controlled chaos of a football game. Whether you're a linebacker or a financial advisor, well-defined assignments are critical to your team's success. In fact, it may be even more important in small organizations, where a few key players handle multiple functions. Not clearly understanding roles can make it much more difficult for a team to pursue its shared goals, says Beverly Flaxington, an author and founder of The Collective, a professional-development consulting firm in Massachusetts.

Consider the process of onboarding new clients. Flaxington notes that it is a pretty straightforward process—as long as every member of the team knows their roles and responsibilities. "The problem is that not everyone may know where they fit in that process," she says. "And more importantly, we often don't know where other people around us fit and how we're supposed to come together and leverage one another for success."

To that end, Flaxington suggests the following tips to help ensure that team members understand their roles—and can do their jobs efficiently and effectively.

Map out team time

To ensure team members know their roles, have them do a time study where they write down their activities in 15-minute increments. While it may seem tedious, this is a way to get a clear picture of who is doing what, where there may be overlap and what tasks can be dropped. By determining specific duties and then matching responsibilities to each person within the process, team members get clarity around how the entire process works and where they fit.

Get socio-emotional

Creating a cohesive team also requires focusing on what Flaxington calls "socio-emotional" processes. These are interpersonal functions such as in-person meetings, off-site activities or team-building exercises that can help build stronger bonds and bring teams together. "We get focused on the work of the day and don't necessarily pay attention to how well we're working together or communicating," she says. The more teams collaborate to figure out how they best work together, the more clearly each person understands their role—and that ultimately leads to more effective teams.

Focus on the individual

Providing clarity around tasks requires more than listing job duties.Firm leaders also need to look for nuances within their organization, including each member's unique strengths, communication styles and personalities. That way, team members can be in roles that best fit them, which can boost productivity and cohesion.

Flaxington says people tend to fall into one of four main personality categories—dominant, influencer, steady or compliant. A solid and effective team has a balance of each personality type. Each one brings unique, complementary attributes to the team, and good leaders draw out the positives of each type while also being mindful of their challenges. Identifying strengths, and understanding how individual reactions impact team productivity, can help turn your team into a finely tuned machine.

Grid showing people who represent the four different personality types

If your firm is small, this type of role clarity is essential to make sure the few important players are all pulling in the same direction. At bigger firms, it's critical to keep the organization operating as efficiently as possible. Either way, defining roles helps achieve goals. 

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Based on Beverly Flaxington's IMPACT® presentation, "People Power: Building strong teams to overcome hurdles," November 2018.