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Clearly defined roles and responsibilities – a source of freedom

All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players … And one man in his time plays many parts – William Shakespeare

Do you know what your role is, in the organisation where you work? Or maybe your roles in the plural? And would those around you agree with your assessment?

One of the reasons why people ‘burn out’ is that they lose their sense of purpose. That to which they are contributing within their organisation becomes unclear to them. Defining[MD1] the scope of action for each person may be one way to give back meaning to the work that people perform. Indeed, knowing in which role or from which angle we’re working will give ourselves and others a reference point.

When roles and responsibilities have been fairly apportioned and properly communicated, each person will find themselves on solid ground, giving them a firm foundation on which to fulfil their potential.

Very often, however, this kind of clarity goes unspoken. Instead everyone does their own thing, according to their own definition. Some might think that this engenders greater freedom, and indeed it can – so long as everything is hunky dory. But in crunch times, not knowing who is responsible for what can make matters that much worse. Not having a clear-cut definition of roles and responsibilities may also trigger disappointment and frustration, both in the person tasked with the job and in the person who mandated them.

Confusion will reign especially whenever the role in question is commonplace. In principle, the responsibilities of a CEO, managing director or a board of directors ought to be known and apply universally. Yet sometimes arguments break out between C-suite executives whenever one seems to be encroaching on the responsibilities – and consequently the ‘turf’ – of another. It’s even worse for non-managerial roles such as Project Manager, Product Owner or Scrum Master. All these roles may be clearly defined in the literature, but how the rules and guidelines are then understood and implemented varies from one organisation (or from one person) to the next.

A person’s roles and responsibilities help demarcate their territory – their space for action in which they can act freely in pursuit of their goals. They are free to define the method so long as another person’s territory is not encroached upon. Naturally, no role can be performed completely in isolation. As inside a company, so in daily life. Our home may be our castle but we cannot have music blaring out all night. And within our households, there may be rules about what we can or cannot do. What makes the real difference is knowing the leeway we’re given. The narrower the leeway each of us has, the less