In late October, the Project Management Institute asked its Twitter followers to scare a project manager in five words or less.
The answers were creative and relatable, but one stuck out: Don’t define roles and responsibilities.
Yikes! That would certainly scare me.
Clarifying roles and responsibilities for people is necessary to achieve project success. I don’t want to work with a team or group that thinks this level of detail isn’t required. Taking the time to define this is critical, yet we repeatedly run into situations where people don’t recognize the importance of this step or don’t know how to do it.
Definitions and clean boundaries are needed because people tend to presume they know what their responsibilities are. That presumption is most often based on their "day job." Still, that role may not be what this project or team needs, especially if the group consists of people from various companies, backgrounds, and experience levels.
I wish there were an easy checklist to determine if people clearly understand their roles. Unfortunately, it becomes quickly apparent when you’re in a group situation.
For example: have you been in a meeting that didn't go well? Maybe no one knew who was supposed to be running the meeting, so everyone on Zoom just looked at each other until a brave soul volunteered to get things started. Or maybe you could feel a subtle power struggle? Or when the meeting ended, you still didn’t know who was in charge of what.
When people don’t understand their roles and responsibilities, forward progress stalls. It takes empathy, leadership, and thoughtfulness to identify this barrier.
There are a few ways you can address this, however.
One solution is to write descriptions for the roles needed on the team. This isn’t the same as a job description that HR would write; simple is acceptable and preferred. What skills and expertise are required by team members? Ideally, this should be done before recruiting team members so you’re not tempted to look at a specific person and tailor the description to their skill set. The role description also should not mirror a task list or a to-do checklist. Task items are assigned to team members; a description of the role is at a higher level.
Another way you can establish roles and responsibilities is to invite an outside facilitator or project manager to help. When we serve as facilitators, Reach Partners can see when and where clarity is needed. We can hit the pause button and ask a group to step back.
If the roles and responsibilities of your team members aren’t clearly defined, it won’t just work itself out. It will take time, but the project will go smoother and faster once back on track.
Defining roles and responsibilities is a framework that brings understanding, not limitations, to opportunities. When each team member understands how they can contribute to a project, you tap into the collective abundance your group brings to the table.
In the end, clearly defining roles and responsibilities will unleash people's potential, perspective and passion. Your projects – and your team – will be stronger because of it.