Defining Roles and Responsibilities

roles and responsibilities

As the company grows, it becomes more important than ever to list the roles and responsibilities of each department, each manager, and each employee. A systematized list of job roles creates a culture of order and prevents work duplication of the same task by different people.

One of the most frustrating things for an employee is not knowing what everybody else around them does. Modern organizations are very complex and have a high level of inter-dependency between departments and team members. For a business to run smoothly, employees must be aware of who does what in the organization so that they know who to go to when they need to get something done.

As a manager, you have a pretty good idea of what each employee does. Whether you work in a small 6-man team or a large organization, you know who to go to for help with supplies, ordering, or even just where to find the documents that have the answers. But employees do not know what their colleagues do unless they ask or you tell them. It is an issue that the staff deeply cares about, yet many managers do not concern themselves with defining clear roles and responsibilities and sharing them.

Unclear roles and responsibilities

Every time I have ever helped a company do a recap on a big project, we list all the issues and find out what led to them. Ninety percent of the time it came down to unclear roles & responsibilities.

As the company grows, it becomes more important than ever to list the roles and responsibilities of each department, each manager, and each employee. A systematized list of job roles creates a culture of order and prevents work duplication of the same task by different people. There is less confusion about what is expected of each employee. Team members will know who to go to to coordinate tasks in the organization as a whole and work interdependently.

Talk to five of your employees. Ask them what their role in the company is and what they are responsible for. Do they start listing what they do on a daily basis or do they correlate it to the organization as a whole? And how do they contribute to it compared to their counterparts? Do your employees know where their work ends and another team member’s begins? If someone leaves, can you divide up their role and responsibilities in less than 5 minutes?

As daunting as it can be to tackle this age old task, start simple and it will snowball from there. The best place to start is just by making a list. Remember – when it comes to organizations, if it isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist.

Listing roles

It doesn’t matter what tool you use, just keep it simple and something that can easily be passed on, e.g. Word or Excel. I prefer Excel since it can easily be consolidated, sorted, altered and distributed. It is surprising how many times once consolidated I sort by “Person Responsible” and an overwhelming number of items have one person’s name next to it. It is one of the easiest ways to get a quick snapshot. There are also applications like the backbone model which come pre-populated with common sense roles. It is convenient, online and easy to understand and use. Managers can see each person’s roles and responsibilities, assign it somebody else, remove or add new ones. Computer programs like these allow you to search through the roles to find out who the individual responsible for a certain project or function is, if you need help with a certain project.

If the job responsibilities are listed, nobody has to wonder whose job it is to update the website, order supplies or monitor inventory levels. All the items will be listed, organized, systematized, and viewable to all.

Impact of clearly defined roles

You, as a leader, will know who is responsible for what and who to hold accountable for it. It also makes the transition for your successor or new recruits easier. Once employees know what their job is through an automated delegation model, you no longer have to manage and juggle tasks to keep on top of things. It becomes a clearly defined role for a team member to free up valuable time for you to push the business forward.

In an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review, a study by Tamara Erikson was summarized on team dynamics at the BBC and Reuters. In her research, she found that in cases where employees’ roles were clearly defined there was better successful collaboration in teams. In her findings, she observed that collaboration success was higher when individual roles were defined rather than that of a group approach.

“Without such clarity, team members are likely to waste energy negotiating roles or protecting turf, rather than focusing on the task,” said Erikson. Defining the role of an employee helps the organization target and hire the best man for the job from the start and also ensures continued success by informing them how that success will be measured and identified.


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Kristen McAlister

Kristen McAlister joined Pamela Wasley to purchase Cerius. She has spent most of her career helping companies establish and improve their infrastructure for high growth. She has grown companies and created optimal infrastructure from both an operational and client management perspective. Kristen has spent the last ten years teaching companies how to leverage executives for transitional situations such as high growth and turnarounds. She is a national speaker and is published on topics ranging from operations and productivity to talent management and the contingent workforce. Kristen is a mother, Ironman, and Marine wife. Click here to learn about Kristen McAlister and send her a question.

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