Organizing roles in a company is the subject of DAY 84 in my upcoming book, As Its People, a 90-day challenge to help employers and managers have happy, engaged, and high-performing employees. The topic of defined roles is on my mind today, so here are pages 276 - 278, quoted:
My boss and coworker were arguing.
“You were supposed to have the lead on this! We can’t have this stuff slipping through the cracks!”
“Look, I did have the lead on it, and then you jumped in. You told me that you were going to the meeting instead, and then I didn’t hear about the changes they decided on, and then you kept working on it without me.”
I was hovering over my computer, trying to look absorbed in my work and hanging on every word. I’d heard similar arguments between coworkers in almost every job I’d been in, and I’d found myself in this type of mix-up more than once. And here it was, playing out ten feet away with my boss involved.
His shoulders were slumped. “Well – I know. But I thought you got sent the details on that.”
“And I thought you wanted to take over, so I let you.”
I know I’ve been going on about turning your company into a fairyland of love, with people who flutter around to have each other’s backs. But anything can be taken too far, and done in the wrong way, so today we’re going to get everybody back to their own desks, and keep them out of each other’s way.
It’s time to eliminate dabbling, which is completely different than being helpful. You don’t want people jumping in and out of each other’s responsibilities and making a big mixed-up mess. You don’t want projects that are partially started, then discarded when normal duties call. You don’t want arguments over who really “should” have done something, and at what point the screw-up began. You don’t want confusion and false expectations over who will take charge and come to the rescue. And you don’t want mistakes and mishaps when people who aren’t familiar with something try to pitch in and take over.
You want organization. You want roles that are clearly defined, and responsibilities that are separated. Here’s how you’ll do it:
(1) Make lists of each job title and its responsibilities. Include how those responsibilities coordinate with other positions, and where those overlap. This will go along perfectly with what you did on DAY 78, and with the written procedures manuals we talked about on DAY 19.
(2) Make a written procedure for collaboration – because this doesn’t mean there can’t be any. You just want organization when people decide to share and work together. You’ll want to make a way for it to be clear each time, as far as who is ultimately responsible for the results of each aspect of the work.
(3) Make the lists and procedures accessible to each person (again, this could be saved as part of the procedures manual for that position).
(4) Let everyone know what you’ve been working on, and what it means. You might do it with a meeting, or an email (just make sure it gets read by each person), or by communicating it to managers who will spread the word.
(5) Be diligent about following your plan, and helping managers to follow it. It would be easy to accidentally send someone into foreign territory when you’re just trying to hurry up and get it all done. It’ll take vigilance, and diligence, and patience, and good judgement.
And again – this does not mean people can’t collaborate, and help each other out. It’s just that you want all of that done in an organized way, so things get completed fully, and with accuracy, and with quality. You want teamwork without the misunderstandings, and bickering, and dropped balls.
This also doesn’t mean there can’t be change, or that people can’t grow and evolve. You just want change to be organized, and clearly defined, and in writing (ideally).
I had a boss who got really serious about this. He drew a map of every position, and the associated job description, and the intersections with other positions and job descriptions. He sat us all down for a meeting where he showed us his drawing, and explained the potential pitfalls if we all tried to wear every hat. He clearly defined our roles, and gave us procedures for collaborating, and then he asked us to remind him about this if he got busy one day and approached one of us with a task that wasn’t our business.
I went back to work after the meeting, and I saw the difference that day. And over the next week the improvements became more and more apparent. The amount of times I was getting interrupted were cut at least in half. I knew exactly who to go to when I had a question about a certain area of a project. My coworkers and I were able to work more efficiently together. I was completely clear about what was expected of me, and I knew what to prioritize. I was able to quickly delegate a list of miscellaneous work that I hadn’t known what to do with before. I was way more accurate, I got work done faster, and my stress level plummeted.
This will make everyone work better together, and work better for you. Give it some thought and planning today, and then make space on your calendar, so you can finish putting whatever-you-need-to in place.