By Dr Eugene Brink
Few things are as demoralising as when your role, tasks and responsibilities overlap with those of a colleague.
This challenge is more common than one might think. According to Gallup research, team success may depend fundamentally on setting clear expectations. Roughly half of all workers strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work.
It is not hard to see where this ambiguity leads: conflict within teams, demotivated and tentative workers and, in the end, pain to the bottom line and declining productivity. This is even more prevalent in modern workplaces, which are becoming smaller and more diffused in their operations. Everybody is expected to be multiskilled and pitch in to service clients and complete products and projects. But who gets the credit in the end and what contingency plans should be put in place to ensure that both conflict and hesitancy are minimised?
If you are dealing with such a situation as a worker, there are several steps you can take to ameliorate your woes.
“Arrange a one-on-one meeting with your boss to discuss your job description. Explain that you’re seeking clarification of your roles and responsibilities to ensure that you and your boss are on the same page. Stress that you hope to exceed your supervisor’s expectations and that understanding the job description can help you achieve that goal,” says May Dowd, career writer at the Houston Chronicle.
“Conversations with your supervisor about your work responsibilities should be ongoing. Clear communication can help you be certain that you’re spending the bulk of your time on projects and assignments that advance the vision and strategic goals of the organisation. Job security is enhanced when your role matters in the big picture.”
She says clarification of roles is vital to teamwork and developing group norms. “Highly productive teams aren’t locked into roles, but communication accompanies change. In a workplace setting, conflict can arise as a direct result of role ambiguity exacerbated by competition.
“You can establish a positive working relationship with coworkers by understanding your role in relation to their roles. Meet with coworkers individually to learn more about their roles and responsibilities and how they see your position complementing the work that they do within the organisation. Clear boundaries prevent misunderstanding and the appearance of stepping on somebody’s toes.”
She says you can establish a positive working relationship with coworkers by understanding everybody’s roles. “Meet with coworkers individually to learn more about their roles and responsibilities and how they see your position complementing the work that they do within the organisation. Clear boundaries prevent misunderstanding and the appearance of stepping on somebody’s toes.”
As far as managers are concerned, they should avoid inconsistent demands and keep in mind what each worker is busy with. Importantly, make sure that workers only report to one person at a time so that (conscious or unconscious) overlapping of demands on multiple people are eliminated.
Put systems in place to allow workers to, safely yet confidently, discuss possible role conflicts – such as regular team meetings and frequent one-on-one conversations where concerns and feedback are aired between you and them. This will foster transparency, clarity and trust.
“A psychologically safe environment will allow team members to feel comfortable telling you they are unsure of their deliverables or what others are responsible for,” avers the Birkman blog. “Communicating prioritization for employees, so they know what responsibilities and aspects of their job are most important, is also critical to their success. Clearly define what success looks like in each employee’s role and your expectations for each team member.”
Birkman blog, n.d., “3 Crucial Steps to Create Role Clarity Within Your Team”, https://blog.birkman.com/3-steps-to-create-role-clarity-within-your-team.
May Dowd, 17 September 2020, “How to Clarify Your Role at Work”, https://work.chron.com/letters-boss-concerning-job-description-18735.html.