Learning & Development, Talent

Importance of Clearly Defined Job Roles

One of the most frustrating situations for a manager is expecting a deliverable while the rest of the team looks around the room or points fingers. At the same time, it can cause a lot of tension when multiple staff argue over who has “jurisdiction” or decision-making authority over a given situation.

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While lack of accountability and authority struggles are on opposite ends of the “take charge” spectrum, they both often result from the same source: a lack of clearly defined roles and responsibilities.

Managers and coworkers often take for granted the fact that everyone is on the same page when it comes to job responsibilities. But job descriptions aren’t something staff necessarily review regularly after they get hired or promoted or change roles. Over time, the lines separating one team member’s roles and responsibilities from another can start to blur.

Here are just a few of the challenges that can come from poorly defined roles.

Nobody Is Doing Anything

When roles aren’t clear, some staff may avoid taking on any tasks that aren’t explicitly assigned to them. If roles are fuzzy, a task may not obviously fall within someone’s responsibility, and it may thus fall through the cracks.

Staff Are Duplicating Efforts

The converse can also be true. Multiple staff may simultaneously assume a task is their responsibility. While the task will ultimately be completed, it results in a lot of wasted effort—and added staff expense.

Conflict Over Authority

Confusion over who can and should be performing tasks can also quickly lead to conflict. Staff who have differing views regarding a task’s appropriate direction may butt heads when there is no clear guidance on who has the authority to make that decision.

Conflict Over Responsibility

As noted above, a lack of clearly defined roles can result in necessary work being left undone. When the ball gets dropped, staff may start pointing fingers to deflect blame. Even before a ball gets dropped, unclear roles often result in conflict over who needs to take on the work.

When a team drops the ball on a deliverable or there is a conflict over authority, it isn’t necessarily due to laziness or territorialism. Omissions and conflicts often are due to unclear or poorly communicated job roles.

In a follow-up post on this topic, we’ll discuss some best practices for clearly defining such roles.