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If You Do Not Know Your Role

“You did not do a very good job as a team lead this year.” Reviewer to employee

“Since when am I the team lead? I do not recall receiving a promotion.” Employee to reviewer

know-your-roleIf you do not know your role, how can you do your job?  This seems like one from the ‘obvious’ files and yet many team members experience stress and conflict around role conflict and role ambiguity.

Role conflict exists when two or more people think that they have responsibility for the same task or the same domain. I used to have a supervisor who would assign something to one of my peers. When my peer did not do it quickly enough (which was most of the time), my supervisor would assign the work to me. When my peer found out I had been assigned the work, he began to complete the work. Now two of us were trying to complete the same task using the same resources.  THAT was fun!

Role ambiguity exists when you are not certain what is or is not your area of responsibility. Sometimes this can be fun, because you can make up your job. In this scenario you may just take the ball and run with it. You decide where the boundaries of your role begin and end. This may cause collisions with some of your colleagues when they think that you have crossed over into their territory. It may lead to low morale if you are chastised for either doing too little or doing too much.

For many people role ambiguity is NOT fun. In fact it can lead to a type of performance paralysis. If you do not know what you are supposed to do, you might be afraid to move forward at all.

Is there a cure for role conflict and role ambiguity? Of course, it is called clear and consistent communication. It involves defining team member roles and making sure those roles are discussed (documenting the roles is an excellent idea too). You can always support this with a RAM or Responsibility Assignment Matrix. The RAM displays the who and what on your project and helps team members see where they fit in and also where their peers fit in.

Or you could just keep people guessing!

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