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Team-Building: Dealing With Role Confusion
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Team-Building: Dealing With Role Confusion - Executive Leadership Articles

Team-Building: Dealing With Role Confusion

Executive Leadership Articles

Team-Building: Dealing With Role Confusion

Role confusion can sneak up on even the healthiest organizations -- in fact, healthy organizations may be more susceptible than toxic ones. In workplaces where people refuse to stretch out into anything beyond what’s explicitly outlined in their job descriptions, roles are easy to understand: if it’s in my job description, it’s my role.

It’s the office with assertive team players that’s likely to breed role confusion. Tyler in accounting has an uncanny knack for unjamming the photocopier, and since he’s an agreeable guy, he never complains when someone asks him to pause what he’s working on so he can work his troubleshooting magic. Before long, the team takes Tyler’s abilities for granted, and newcomers may even assume it’s his job to open door 2 and replace the toner cartridge. This can result in feelings of resentment by Tyler when he’s called upon, or by others when Tyler’s simply too busy doing his actual job to explain the simplest scan-to-USB procedure to the new marketing intern.

Too much of this kind of thing, and people are confused all over. The photocopier example is a trivial (yet common!) case, but add it to more serious situations, where needs arose in the workflow and competent people filled them, and you can have people wondering if they’re appreciated appropriately for what they add to the team officially and what they add in other ways. The office can be humming beautifully despite these undefined roles, and when a position assigning these roles is created, any unspoken role certainty becomes precarious: The new person is going to do X? What about everything so-and-so has already done on X?

Role confusion generally comes with two harmful feelings: underappreciation and being taken for granted. There are a few simple team-building practices you can put into motion to minimize the likelihood that this kind of confusion will damage your team or its members. Nothing is a guarantee, simply because we’re talking about office dynamics, which means we’re talking about humans and their many complicated responses to life and work, but here are some suggestions for keeping an eye on role certainty.

First, be as aware as possible of the off-the-record contributions of everyone on your team. You might not even know that Rosie in compliance is the sharp-eyed proofreader everyone goes to for a final check on apostrophes and commas before sending out a huge email blast, but ask around and you’ll find out for sure. Then thank these people, regularly and sincerely, whenever it comes up. Rosie will proofread those emails with or without your thanks, but her attitude about this assumed role will be much more positive when her leadership and teammates acknowledge it. So will your birthday-organizers, copier-unjammers, unofficial tech helpers, Spanish language translators, and office fridge-cleaners.

Second, it’s your team. Have regular one-on-one meetings with everyone on it. Once a week would be great, but once every two weeks is fine. Use it as time to get updates on whatever each member is working on, but use it also as a temperature check. Getting to know your team better this way (as people, not as cogs) makes you better able to leverage individual, off-the-resume talent and passion, which makes their experience at work more rewarding for them.

If it’s in your power to formally assign new duties, and to offer changes in title and salary as you do so, you can reconfigure your team so the descriptions better match what everyone actually does. This kind of shifting comes with all kinds of pitfalls too, of course, but better team building doesn’t come from trust walks. As we say repeatedly, it comes from doing meaningful work together. Leveraging your group’s passions and abilities so the work it does is more meaningful for each member is some of the best team building of all.


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Team-Building: Dealing With Role Confusion - Executive Leadership Articles

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