Picture a soccer team getting ready for kick-off. The referee walks to the center ring, puts the ball down, and blows the whistle.
To her surprise, everyone on one team rushes toward the ball, tripping over one another in the process. No one’s back on defense. The goalie’s out to lunch. As the chaos unfolds, the opposing team secures the ball, sprints downfield, and scores an easy goal.
What happened? Clearly, one team was organized, while the other was not.
A lack of role clarity can impede any team—whether it’s soccer, sales, or rocket science. In this piece, we’ll explore why role clarity is critical, and how to lead a team where everyone plays their part.
What is role clarity?
Role clarity is the extent to which employees understand their job, its responsibilities, and how their work influences the larger team or organizational strategy.
When teams have strong role clarity, it means employees have a clear grasp on the skills their peers bring to the table and the problems they’re equipped to solve. If the team is pursuing a set of objectives, role clarity helps to ensure there’s a game plan to accomplish those goals.
Why role clarity matters
Research shows that when employees understand their responsibilities, goals, and priorities, they are more engaged. Role conflict and ambiguity, on the other hand, can create stress and confusion. By reducing ambiguity around roles, you’ll allow your team to be more effective and march in the same direction.
Creating clarity isn’t something you can achieve in a single team check-in. Nor is it as simple as writing a good job description (though that certainly doesn’t hurt). As organizational priorities and individuals’ work shifts, you may need to revisit the learnings in this blog to ensure your team members are clear on their roles.
What good role clarity looks like
People often mistake a job description and a detailed task list as “role clarity.” Managers can write down what a role does, but that doesn’t mean a person will actually do that work, let alone do it well.
Good role clarity is an ongoing, collaborative process. It’s important that managers work with their direct reports to ensure everyone’s aligned on the specifics of their own roles.
When team members understand what their goals are and how their work impacts the business, they’ll know how to approach problems, and where to flex their abilities when needed. Too much rigidity around tasks can backfire when business priorities shift and work needs to adapt.
It’s also helpful for employees to know what roles their colleagues play, and where people’s skill sets may overlap. Without that knowledge, people may duplicate efforts—or, worse, work against one another. Having role clarity helps to avoid role conflict; as a leader, be intentional about how people’s skills complement one another, and create room for healthy collaboration.
3 effective ways to build role clarity
At The Predictive Index, we like to dream big and move fast. To ensure nothing falls through the cracks, we take great care to build clarity around everyone’s roles and responsibilities.
Here are three role clarity exercises we use to align our teams on the work at hand:
1. Document everyone’s roles.
When moving quickly, it’s easy for departments and teams to fall into silos. This is especially true of mid- to large-size organizations, where it’s difficult to remember every person you meet, and their area of experience.
At PI, we circumvent this problem by asking new team members to create a slide in a team deck explaining what they do. This slide includes their Reference Profile, their title, the pronouns they use, and a short blurb about their responsibilities on the team. It also includes a breakdown of:
- What work the team member does
- Which tools they use/manage
- Existing examples of their work
- How the person can assist others
Want a copy of this slide deck? Download our free template!
Not only is this slide deck a great resource to share across the business—it’s also helpful within a team to hash out ownership of tasks and cut down on duplicate work.
Pro Tip: You can even include a dedicated slide detailing all the different tools and software accounts your team uses. (Be sure to use a password manager, lest you get on IT’s bad side!)
2. Build a RACI chart.
Want to create clarity around an upcoming project or initiative? Try building a RACI chart.
The RACI framework has been around for decades, and is commonly used by teams to track individual responsibilities for projects with many moving parts and stakeholders.
Here’s what RACI stands for:
- R = Responsible: the person (or people) actually doing the work
- A = Accountable: the person ultimately accountable for the work or its approval (usually a single person; often a manager)
- C = Consulted: anyone who should be consulted about the work and/or key decisions
- I = Informed: anyone who should be informed of progress and major milestones, but doesn’t need to influence the actual work
It’s worth noting that RACI doesn’t have to fit within the confines of a single team. You can use it to loop in stakeholders from across the organization (usually as Consulted or Informed), or to build a cross-functional team for a company-wide initiative.
However you leverage the framework, make sure everyone is clear on their role (i.e., R, A, C, or I) at the start of a project, and that those roles are agreed upon and adhered to from kickoff to post-mortem.
3. Map out team competencies.
Another way to build role clarity is by assessing team competencies. The more visibility you have into your people’s strengths, the easier it becomes to leverage those skills in specific roles.
At PI, we do this through our own products. PI Design gives team leaders the ability to assess their team’s behavioral makeup. By inviting team members to take a six-minute assessment, they can see where people’s individual skills lie, and how those skills complement one another.
Use PI Design to visualize your team and your objectives, side by side. See where you can lean into natural strengths—and where you may have to “stretch” to hit your goals.
See how Design helps teams build role clarity in the video below:
Additional tips to build role clarity
Role clarity doesn’t stop there. Here are some additional ways you can keep your team moving in one direction:
Define what success looks like.
Take time with each team member to review their job description and your expectations for the role. Be flexible, though—if roles are too rigid, it can demotivate employees, stifle their creativity, and prevent them from expanding their skill sets.
Ensure your team is aligned on their current work and goals. Promote transparency and ask the team to share ideas and tasks they’re working on. Above all else, create a team culture where people feel encouraged to ask for help and rely on each other’s strengths.
Revisit this alignment often.
Business objectives are constantly evolving. Make sure you’re allowing for regular conversations with your people around goals and expectations. In doing so, you’ll be prioritizing the employee experience—while setting up your organization for future success.