Makarios Consulting Blog

Understanding Roles: Clarity Is Key for High-Performing Teams

employee rolesHigh-performing teams all have this in common: everyone understands each team member’s role. It is so easy to say … and so hard to do.

We have found in our work that teams are frequently plagued with problems when it comes to knowing who is supposed to do what. Roles on the team may be ill-defined and ambiguous, resulting in duplicative work, overlooked tasks, and missed opportunities. “Unofficial” roles may have been haphazardly assigned, generating confusion about responsibilities and accountabilities. Roles may have been created in the past that are no longer relevant in the current business environment. And, perhaps worst of all, there may be critical roles that are not being handled at all on the team.

A team that is hampered by ambiguous, duplicative, irrelevant, or missing roles will never achieve high performance. The way out of this situation is to take the following three steps.

First, define the seats you need on your team and the roles those seats have, as explained in the Entrepreneurial Operating System® (EOS®). This takes intentionality, effort, and – occasionally – ruthlessness. Don’t get distracted by generic business models or by people who say “we’ve always done it this way” or “we’ve never done it this way.” Keep your eyes focused on your company goals and define the seats that will help you reach those goals. Then, be clear about exactly what each seat is responsible for. You want to establish seats and roles that will empower you to dazzle your customers!

Second, communicate with the team about roles and responsibilities. We all know what happens when we assume that “everyone knows what to do” … we find out the hard way that isn’t the case. Therefore, make no assumptions. Reinforce, not just once, but over and over again, how work is supposed to take place on the team. This includes who is doing what, where there are dependencies, when collaboration should happen, and how hand-offs should occur. Communication is what prevents confusion about tasks, eliminates friction between team members, and keeps the team functioning at peak performance.

Third, evaluate seats and roles at regular intervals. Business conditions, organizational needs, and customer expectations all change over time. Consequently, you should periodically take a step back and ask: “Have we got all the critical functions covered?” “Do we still need all the seats we currently have?” “Do we need to re-define roles and responsibilities?” This evaluation is crucial to maintain optimal team performance and to create an agile and responsive organization.

One of our clients recently put this guidance into practice. They had a strong business model in place where the seats and roles in their organization were well-defined. However, a new product opportunity arose due to rapidly-changing market conditions. Three members of the company’s top leadership formed an ad hoc team to capitalize on the opportunity while simultaneously assessing its long-term validity.

After several weeks, it became clear that this product should be added to the company’s core business portfolio. They needed to disband the ad hoc team and build a structured team to mature the product line. Accordingly, we helped them determine the seats they would need and the roles those seats should have in order to optimize the new business and dazzle their customers.

The new team was swiftly formed and the ad hoc team engaged in a structured transition of the work. The new team members were able to scale the product line quickly because each person understood his or her role as well as the roles of their fellow team members. Nobody fumbled an opportunity or missed a task since they had complete clarity about the roles on the team. The new product line is going strong, and future projections are very attractive.

For high performance to become the hallmark of your teams, take the time to define the seats you need and the roles those seats should have, then be sure that everyone on the team understands their own and each other’s roles and responsibilities. The clarity you create will streamline your path to success.