A team that understands and agrees on what one another does is likely to be more high functioning than those who don’t. Here’s how to clarify roles and responsibilities on your team…
What are team roles and responsibilities?
Roles are generally defined as the positions that each person on a team assumes — for example on a product team you might have a Product Manager role, a Product Designer role, etc.
Responsibilities are the specific tasks or duties that team members are expected to carry out as part of their role.
Why take time to clarify them?
Understanding what each person contributes and is responsible for is a big part of working well together and succeeding as a team.
You might need to run this exercise if you’re a new team that needs to align or an existing team that has lost its way on who is responsible for what. This may mean that team members think that another person is taking taking care of a particular responsibility, but that isn’t happening. This can result in frustration and inefficiencies in ways of working, for example.
Running this exercise means that the team can get clarification on what one another does as well as allowing for action to be taken to assign responsibilities that currently don’t have an owner, but that are necessary for the team to function well.
Facilitating a team roles and responsibilities workshop
In every workshop you will find participants who will be hesitant to take part unless they are told why they are there, what you will be doing and what the end result will be (and rightly so!). With this in mind, it’s beneficial to start any workshop with the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ to save time and head off these sorts of questions:
- What = working together to understand the team’s roles and responsibilities
- Why = to clarify the team’s expectations of one another so that you can work well together
- How = a one hour workshop with the following agenda
Identify the roles on your team (5 minutes)
Draw a grid up on a whiteboard with enough space to list out the different roles on the team. Leave a space spare for ‘unassigned responsibilities’ — we’ll come back to that later on.
Go around the room and ask each team member to tell you their job role — if you have both Front and Back-End developers you can just list them as “Developer” in the grid — keep it high level. You should end up with something that looks like this:
Ask each team member to clarify their own responsibilities (10 minutes)
Each team member writes down the top 3–5 things that they believe they are responsible for in their own role on Post-It notes and then rank them in order of priority. Put these to one side once they’re done.
Think about teammates’ responsibilities (10 minutes)
Now ask each team member to write down what they believe the 1–2 main priorities of each of the other roles on the team are.
Responsibilities that don’t have a clear owner may also come up during this exercise — ask the team to note those down also for discussion later on.
Discuss each role (30 minutes)
Pick one person to start — your Product Manager, for example. Ask them to read out what they wrote down as their top 3–5 priorities and place them in the relevant square on the grid.
Next ask each member of the team to read out what they wrote down as the top 1–2 priorities for the Product Manager on the team.
At this point the Product Manager can accept or politely decline the responsibilities that other team members have written down for their role.
If they decline then the team needs to figure out which role that responsibility should be assigned to, or if it currently doesn’t have an owner then move it to the “Unassigned” column.
Repeat this exercise for each role on the team and discuss the unassigned responsibilities as you go along to see if they fit anywhere.
Identify next steps (5 minutes)
At the end of the exercise it will become clear if the team is aligned or if there are some unassigned responsibilities that need owners. Next steps might include resolving who owns these and following up with the relevant parties who can help to resolve things.
Assign someone to write up the findings and share with the team.
Good luck and let me know how it goes if you decide to try this out with your team!