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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 meaning our work will then have.

What makes analysing roles interesting is that we can be juggling several concurrently, with none getting in the way of the other. It’s possible to be a son or a daughter, a mum or a dad, a member of parliament and a teacher, all at the same time.

Roles will change depending on our personal backgrounds and how the company we’re working for evolves. Those who are mothers and fathers today are not dealing with the same norms as 50 years ago. Moreover, the roles of motherhood and fatherhood change as children get older.

In companies too, roles will evolve. At times these changes are hard to manage. Expectations about certain roles are simply implied and, as a result, are neither clear or understood in the same way by everyone, potentially leading to interpersonal conflicts or even burnout. The role of the Project Manager will differ depending on the type of project run with a company. There may or may not be a Scrum Master.

Roles and responsibilities are a vital concept for holacratic organisations. By determining roles, we seek to dispense with a rigid structure. The organisation needs several roles to function and each one has responsibilities attached to it. Roles are normally assigned depending on the needs and abilities/interests of the persons.

Inside a project, roles need to be clearly defined as early as possible, starting with clarifications concerning the Project Manager and the Stakeholder. Those of you who have read my book know that this is a vital relationship, in my opinion. Both the owner and the manager of the project are crucial to its success. If one of the two fails to assume their responsibilities or encroaches on those of the other, discord arises and the project will fall short of expectations.

Whatever you do or wherever you work, I’d encourage you to think about the roles that you have in your professional or private life, identify the responsibilities that you believe are linked to those roles and then corroborate them with the persons working alongside you each time. You’d be surprised about what you might learn…

How about you? Do you have similar or different experiences? Don’t hesitate to leave a comment. I'll be happy to discuss the topic with you!

Artwork: Mélanie Bénard Tremblay, 2021, © Marakoudja.


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