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Hannah Taylor

How to Define Roles & Responsibilities in a Team

Defining roles and responsibilities is a vital step to successful project and resource management that will help you avoid confusion in the long run. Here's how to do it.

Imagine for a moment that you manage a superhero squad. How would you approach assigning tasks or missions? It would probably go something like this…

As you’ve assembled a group of people with different powers, from superstrength to mind reading, you make each hero responsible for tasks that match their abilities. Need to put out a fire? Get a water-wielder on the job. There’s a building that needs scaling? Time to call your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

Knowing what’s expected of each hero helps them work more efficiently individually and as a team, working towards a shared goal. When everyone understands how their unique skill set is best used, they become an unstoppable force.

You can apply the same logic to building new project teams. While the team’s mission may be smaller scale than saving the world, it’s no less important that each member understands their role in achieving those goals.

In other words, clarifying each team member's role and responsibilities is critical to the team’s success. Let’s explore how to define your team’s roles and responsibilities.

The importance of defining roles and responsibilities

If you want your team-building choices to have a long-term positive impact, you need to think strategically. Defining roles and responsibilities has far-reaching benefits, from helping you hire the right people to achieve your goals to boosting employee morale.

  • Informing the hiring process. When you’re clear about what a role entails, it becomes easier to identify hiring needs and match candidates to open roles. Whether you’re building your team with internal talent or external hires, providing hiring managers with clear expectations of roles and the skills required to qualify streamlines this process.
  • Creating accountability. When everyone has a clear view of what tasks they and their colleagues are responsible for, employees are held accountable for pulling their weight and fulfilling their roles.
  • Supporting collaboration. By clearly defining how each role functions in relation to specific tasks or processes, your team will work like a well-oiled machine.
  • Improving resource utilization. A lack of process for assigning tasks spells trouble. Tasks may be left unclaimed, two team members may double up on the same task, or the wrong team member may take ownership of an essential task job, wasting precious time and resources.
  • Boosting morale. Knowing what is expected of you is a huge driver of engagement, according to Gallup. By providing set expectations, you help people feel confident in their duties, improving their performance and  well-being.

Preparing to define team roles and responsibilities

Before we jump into laying out how to define key responsibilities, you need to do some prep work. Answering these questions will help you gather critical information needed to make informed decisions.

What work needs to be done? Write down exactly what your project team is going to be doing. Make sure to include all key activities and what support will be required for each. For example, if you’re launching an app, activities will include managing the project, designing the app, writing copy, and developing the software.

What existing roles can I use? If you already have specific job roles outlined or internal talent set to join your roster, note down each job title and its current responsibilities. Looking at the example above, this would include a Project Manager, UX Designer, Copywriter, and Developer to start.

What existing workflows will I use? Processes make the world go round — or at least, they make the project management world go round. Note any existing workflows you’ll expect to follow, as this will help determine which roles and responsibilities you need to support them.

Are there any talent gaps? Performing a skills gap analysis helps identify gaps you need to fill. This involves cross-referencing the work that needs to be done with your team members’ skills — which you can map out using a skills inventory. If certain activities require skills that aren’t currently being met, this opens up opportunities for skill development or new hires.

Turn to technology

If this seems like a lot of analytical work, don’t worry. Gathering data is a critical part of developing a project team, but you don’t have to do it alone, and you certainly don’t need to rely on guesswork.

Resource management tools like Runn help you create a database of your staff, their skills, and the skills required for specific roles. Storing this data in one place makes reporting on everything from skill utilization to talent gaps easier, helping you make more informed decisions!

How to define roles and responsibilities

Building a talented, motivated, and accountable team takes hard work. But with the right tools, you’ll be reaching your goals in no time. Here’s how to define your team’s roles and responsibilities and build an unstoppable team.

Define roles and responsibilities with a role design process

The goal of role design is in the name. This process focuses on defining and structuring a job role, including its responsibilities, tasks, and place in project workflows.

Strategic role design helps improve performance by maximizing operational efficiency and arranging job responsibilities around functional tasks. At a basic level, this process involves:

  • Role definition. Defining the role’s purpose and objectives in the context of the team structure, including how it contributes to the project’s success.
  • Job analysis. Clarifying what the job entails, including the specific processes and tasks it’s responsible for.
  • Qualification criteria. Specifying the experience and skills, including soft and hard skills, required to qualify an individual for the role. This will inform the creation of a job description.

Hold team workshops to plan roles and responsibilities

Once you’ve laid out the work that needs to be done and understood how each person’s role contributes to the team’s goals, it’s time to discuss your plans with your team.

Any manager worth their salt knows they shouldn’t make decisions about task and responsibility division without consulting the larger team. We recommend exploring task division collaboratively, preferably in a workshop or ideation session.

Here’s an example of how such a workshop can be structured:

  1. The entire team writes down their understanding of their roles and responsibilities
  2. All team members write down their understanding of other team members' job responsibilities
  3. You discuss whether these perceptions are correct, identify any overlaps in responsibilities, and assign primary ownership to one person
  4. Identify any other tasks that no one has responsibility for and decide whether this necessitates a new role to be created or if they can be dispersed amongst the team

Opening up the table for discussion allows for honest discussion and for any challenges to be tackled head-on. Taking a collaborative approach will not only produce better results but also facilitate a healthy team dynamic.

Use a RACI matrix to visualize roles and responsibilities

If you like charts, you’ll love creating a RACI matrix. The goal of a RACI chart is to reduce confusion around responsibilities by clarifying the expectations around roles and responsibilities. The chart provides a visual reference for what role each team member plays in specific tasks or activities.

Here’s how to create a RACI matrix:

  • Break the project down into key activities and tasks. List these on the left side of the chart
  • List your team members and their roles at the top of the chart
  • Identify each team member’s level of involvement in each activity; are they Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, or Informed?

Each person’s level of involvement may change over time. Here’s what they all mean:

  • Responsible individuals will actually perform the work involved in an activity
  • The Accountable individual is responsible for approvals. This will be one team member — likely you as the team leader!
  • Consulted workers provide input on the work, such as feedback or consultancy
  • Informed individuals know about the task and will be kept up to date with progress

Write a team charter to formalize roles and responsibilities

Finally, it’s time to formalize the roles and responsibilities you’ve agreed upon. A team charter is a document outlining a team’s goals and strategies, supporting alignment, and clear communication.

Creating a team charter is essential as it ensures everything is put down in writing. You can then refer back to the charter if challenges arise. Just make sure to update it if anything changes!

Best practices for defining roles and responsibilities

As you work through this process, keep these best practices in mind. They’ll help support healthy teamwork and improve your chances of success!

Consider skills development and progression

One of the reasons we recommend you talk to your team before defining roles and responsibilities is to understand their personal development goals. This will help you create development plans for each role; you can use skills management to determine when your team members are ready to take a step up and adapt project planning accordingly.

Conflict resolution strategies

Creating conflict resolution strategies — plans for how your team will manage role conflicts or responsibilities overlap — provides clear guidelines to follow if issues arise. Considering these challenges and solutions ahead of time will allow you to react more effectively.

Flexibility and adaptability

The goal of defining roles and responsibilities is to provide role clarity, not to put everyone into neat little boxes. There are always going to be ad hoc tasks that fall outside of the team’s defined roles, requiring people to be flexible. Skills tracking will help you understand what additional skill sets your team has and allocate unexpected tasks accordingly.

Regularly review roles and responsibilities

Teams aren't static. Roles and responsibilities will evolve over time as project requirements change and new roles may need to be created to accommodate new responsibilities. 

This is just one reason why it’s important to make time for regular team workshop sessions. By regularly reviewing your roles and their responsibilities alongside demand, you can reassess suitability and create plans for the future.

But why rely on guesswork when you can easily gather up-to-date data on everything from resource utilization to project requirements? Resource management software provides a top-down view of how well your team is functioning, helping you identify potential challenges, test and refine possible solutions, and make informed changes to your team’s roles and responsibilities.

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