Who does what?

Happy Canada Day everyone.

Almost every team I have come across has had issues around role ambiguity or what I call, who does what?

It is often classified as roles and responsibilities and yes, I would agree, roles and responsibilities need to be clarified.

Often, people will suggest that this should be addressed through a updating of job descriptions exercise.

And I would not disagree yet this can be a very time consuming process and even one that is not allowed at a local level.

In one instance, I came across an organization that had spent two years trying to clarify the job descriptions of only six staff members all the while living with role ambiguity.

And, no surprise, this ambiguity caused substantial number of conflicts.

“I am not supposed to do that, that is Bob’s job.”

“That is not in my job description.”

“That is for the higher-ups, not us to take care of.”

Early on in my career, I recognized this need and performed a very simple exercise that proved to be invaluable to this day.

I circulated a simple excel sheet with the tasks that I thought were done by our admin staff and sent it each of them to add to the list if I forget anything.

I added three columns, primary, secondary and third back-up.

We then all met together and within an hour we mapped-out who did what and who was responsible as secondary and third-back-up.

Not only did this simple exercise clarify who did what, it also showed us where we were vulnerable without a secondary or third back up. Something everyone recognized and the impetus for cross-training.

I then circulated the document to everyone who interacted with the staff so they would know who to contact for what.

Lastly, when new staff arrived, I used this tool as a roadmap of what they would be responsible for and what training they would need.

One element at a time, they would need to learn what they needed to know, and we would check-off on the sheet once the task was mastered.

This document naturally evolved over the years and as we did not project and initiatives, new elements were added, and work assigned to the most logical role and a secondary and third back-up assigned.

In case you were curious, in almost all cases, I was the third back-up. I learned how to do everything that was part of the core work because I never wanted to say to a client, “sorry, Jane is on vacation and no one else knows how to do that.”

Would you ever want to hear that as a client?

This simple tool enabled us to avoid role ambiguity for over a decade and act to mitigate risk and enable some level of succession planning that very few organizations do well.

Lastly, my approach to adding new tasks or responsibilities was role based using a question.

Imagine a new task needs to be done. If I were to simple assign that to someone, they might take offense, especially if there are more than one person on the team.

In these cases, I would describe the task and gather everyone together and simply ask, “based on this description of the task, what makes the most sense, which unit should perform this role?”

The answer I knew was our unit, yet when they staff themselves would say “us,” getting buy-in from them to do the work was much easier.

Keep in-mind, I almost always assigned myself as third back-up if not secondary, so I was not above doing what needed to be done.

This exercise can also be done by each team member for themselves and then collate all the responses on to one document for the team to review.

The best part, it might only take one hour per person and another one hour team meeting.

I completely agree with clarifying roles and responsibilities in job descriptions, yet until you can get there, maybe just figuring out who does what is enough for now.