The why, what and who of role clarity

Role Clarity - the hidden superpower of high performing teams and organisations.
by William Winstone

Role clarity may seem like an HR compliance necessity, rather than a key driver for performance in your team. It may seem a desperately boring subject, evoking wordy job descriptions and lists of duties. Therein lies the problem: many managers and staff members live through an existence of duties but with no sense of purpose or priority.

In contrast, the high performance team leader knows that driving role clarity in every position is the foundation for a thriving team. And the good news is that it doesn’t take endless OD or HR initiatives. To optimise the role clarity ‘as is’ takes the investment of just 30 minutes preparation on your own and one 60 minute conversation with your line manager.

Once you have these foundations in place, apply the same principles with each of your key relationships. These may be your functional team members, or within a project team. It can be powerfully done as a team together to reinforce everyone’s sense of team roles, as well as 1-1.

The Why

Role clarity may seem like an HR compliance necessity, rather than a key driver for performance in your team. It may seem a desperately boring subject, evoking wordy job descriptions and lists of duties. Therein lies the problem: many managers and staff members live through an existence of duties but with no sense of purpose or priority.

In contrast, the high performance team leader knows that driving role clarity in every position is the foundation for a thriving team. And the good news is that it doesn’t take endless OD or HR initiatives. To optimise the role clarity ‘as is’ takes the investment of just 30 minutes preparation on your own and one 60 minute conversation with your line manager.

Once you have these foundations in place, apply the same principles with each of your key relationships. These may be your functional team members, or within a project team. It can be powerfully done as a team together to reinforce everyone’s sense of team roles, as well as 1-1.

The What (Role clarity ≠ job description)

Job descriptions typically focus on the what – tasks to be completed. However unless they prioritise the key aspects, which connect most closely with purpose, they are just lists. Ask yourself which tasks are most mission critical, and if your answer is ‘all’, you may not be thinking as clearly as you need to. Without really discerning prioritisation, every role risks overwhelm leading to burnout. Then a very random sort of fire-fighting short term prioritisation takes place, that can be far more damaging for performance and morale than actively planning for, and communicating, what you won’t do.

The Who

Every role has key relationships which deliver a disproportionate amount of value to the team and organisation. These need identifying, nurturing and negotiating to clarify the division of responsibilities between everyone. Discuss and confirm what authority and freedom to act each of you believes you have, and when you agree to consult or keep the other informed.

 

And as a reminder of why it’s worth investing time, here are the benefits of driving role clarity:

  • It infuses the organisation and team’s purpose into the role.
  • It results in everyone knowing their key priorities, and the context they are operating in, not just a list of tasks.
  • This also builds autonomy and confidence in making quick decisions that are more likely to be aligned to the team’s mission.
  • It results in everyone knowing their key relationships and stakeholders, and then in subsequent conversations clarifying the division of responsibilities between you.
  • This then encourages leaders to work at the right level – directing, delegating and coaching NOT micromanaging or rescuing.
  • It is intimately connected with wellbeing, and is a pre-requisite for a healthy, growth-oriented mindset because it reduces uncertainty and defensiveness.

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