Role clarity is one of the most productive management exercises a team can engage in, so why it is so rarely used? I believe that one reason is that teams don’t have a tool to guide role clarity, so they don’t know how to engage in this type of exercise, and second, they don’t know when to it. This post will address both the how and when; first the when.
Change Stop and Clarify Roles & Priorities …
During Times of High Change.
When things are more chaotic than normal, it is time to stop and clarify roles within your team or organization. It doesn’t matter if the chaos is from hyper-growth (double-digit growth over multiple periods) or a significant downturn; both create havoc for management. Under the weight of constant change, decision making independence seems to collapse and lines of authority can disappear.
Rapidly changing assumptions create confusion and uncertainty and teams revert to a hub management style, slowing down decision-making just when they should be moving fast. All decisions seem to need authorization from one person or from a group that has reached consensus. This is when you have to fight group-think and stay responsive. Engaging in role clarity and confirming priorities of the collective and for each individual will re-calibrate your management powers and optimize all available resources to prevail. Clarifying roles and priorities to lead through changing times is a vital step to success.
When the Members of the Team Change.
Another ideal time to clarify roles is when you have a new player on your team. When a team expands or replaces an existing member, confirming roles is a key step to improving or sustaining high levels of team performance. This is of course especially true when the new team member is the leader.
At a minimum, a team should review roles and clarify each member’s priorities as a way to fully orient new team members on how the team operates. This exercise accelerates unity and reveals possible disconnects or gaps that could cause friction down the road if the new member makes an assumption about their role or of one of their team member’s priorities.
When the new member is the team leader, clarifying roles is a vital first step in reauthorizing decision making and in adding transparency to how the new leader wants to influence an individual area or the collective performance. Making this influence clear early on helps the team establish a “new groove” quickly. Clarifying roles and priorities whenever there is a new team leader is key to creating or sustaining a high performing team.
When Starting Implementation of a New Direction or Goal.
Setting new goals or defining a new strategic direction is usually an exciting time. The first phase of implementation is marked by a flurry of activity when “the doers” finally can turn from talking about what they want to do to action. This newly released energy is fantastic. However, without clarity on who is going to do what, the new energy can quickly become frustration causing a great planning effort to experience missteps or to stall out prematurely. These missteps can cause cynicism that ultimately can kill progress on an important new goal. Taking time to clarify roles and how to shift priorities before entering the implementation stage is a critical step often ignored in planning processes.