Role ambiguity is one of the greatest sources of stress. Though easily fixed, it is an ongoing issue for many teams.

A study looking at numerous organisations was conducted and assessed them against different aspects of successful teams. One such organisation was the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The three teams that were observed were responsible for the radio and television broadcasts of special events (such as the 2006 World Cup) and daytime television shows. These teams were large, ranging from 66 to 133 people, all from different disciplines. One would be forgiven for believing that there was a strong possibility of confusion among team members.

To the contrary, it was found that the BBC’s teams scored among the highest in the sample with regard to the clarity with which team members viewed their own roles and the roles of others. All three teams were composed of specialists who had expertise in their given function, and each person had a clearly defined role. The tasks the BBC teams tackle are, by their very nature, uncertain and to some extent ambiguous, particularly when they involve covering breaking news. The BBC has overcome this by clarifying team members’ individual roles with so much precision that it keeps friction, internal competition and the possibility of mistakes to a minimum.

The research showed that collaboration improves when the roles of individual team members are clearly defined and well understood. Without such clarity, team members are likely to waste too much energy negotiating roles or protecting their domain rather than focusing on the required tasks.

Role clarity is a prerequisite for effective team performance. When team members know what is expected of them, which aspects of their role are most important, how the delivery of that role contributes to team goals and how their performance will be evaluated, the team as a whole will perform to a higher level of effectiveness.

However, it is not just a case of individual role clarity. Each team member must also be clear on the roles of all other team members. This requires regular discussion between the team and team leader, with the leader ensuring that all team members, individually and collectively, understand their own and each other’s roles.

Leaders often incorrectly believe that the problems can be solved by each individual having a job description. A job description, however, does not necessarily define an individual’s role in a team.

An effective leader will not simply define the roles on paper and hand them out. They will explain the role and ensure that its purpose and deliverables are clearly understood in a broad context. Effective leaders will ensure that the expectations of each role are understood by both the “role-owner” and by the other team members. They will also accept that maintaining role clarity is an ongoing leadership activity.

Role ambiguity is one of the greatest barriers to team effectiveness. Teams with role clarity are substantially more successful than those without. It takes a strong team leader to recognise its importance and create the processes to ensure it is an ongoing activity for the team.

References:

Erickson, TL. (2012). The biggest mistake you (probably) make with teams. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2012/04/the-biggest-mistake-you-probab

Gratton, L., & Erickson, TL. (2007). Eight ways to build collaborative teams. Retrieved from  https://hbr.org/2007/11/eight-ways-to-build-collaborative-teams

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