Accountability is the glue that binds high-performing teams. It is an integral part of a collaborative, effective, and efficient work environment. However, when there’s a lack of clarity about who’s responsible for what, it can lead to confusion, tension, and misplaced accountability, ultimately slowing down decision-making and reducing the team’s effectiveness.
Many managers erroneously believe that their teams have a shared understanding of their roles and responsibilities. In reality, team members often have divergent perceptions of their own roles and those of their peers. This lack of clarity can lead to gaps in responsibility and unmet expectations. However, this situation can be corrected. One tool that can help is a simple yet effective exercise that brings everyone’s assumptions to the fore and defines roles and responsibilities.
The first step of the exercise is to establish a conducive space for discussion. If the team is distributed, a shared digital document can be used. If the team is co-located, a large whiteboard or piece of paper can be employed. The workspace should have four columns: Role, Responsibilities (What Others Think), Responsibilities (What I Think), and Unassigned.
Next, the team works together to identify the various roles within the team. It’s important to note that a single team member may assume more than one role. For example, a software engineer may also be a project manager. The roles should be listed once, irrespective of how many team members fulfill them.
The third step involves each team member writing down their understanding of the top responsibilities for each role. The key here is for team members to only provide input on roles they do not fill. This allows for a more objective assessment. Any responsibilities not clearly assigned to a role should be placed in the Unassigned section.
Following this, each person identifies and ranks their top three to five responsibilities for their role. These responsibilities are then placed in the “What I Think” column.
The fifth step involves discussing the differences in perceived role responsibilities. Each team member explains their understanding of their role and how they prioritize their tasks. This discussion allows the team to reconcile differences in understanding and, if necessary, reassign tasks. Any responsibilities without a clear owner are moved to the unassigned responsibilities section.
Finally, the team collectively reviews the unassigned responsibilities. They determine whether these tasks fit into existing roles or require the creation or redefinition of a role. The team then assigns a person to find an owner for these tasks and sets a date to follow up. This exercise should be repeated every three to six months to accommodate changes in roles and responsibilities.
The time invested in clarifying individual roles and responsibilities yields considerable dividends. This exercise eliminates unnecessary frustration and creates a shared understanding of accountability. Ultimately, it smooths out collaboration hurdles, enhancing team performance and productivity. So, let’s embrace clarity and accountability to build high-performing teams.