My home of Cleveland, Ohio has recently been transformed from the “Mistake on the lake” to World Champions. This is due to the performance of a team 0 the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA franchise – arguably the most team oriented of all professional sports.

One of the players responded when asked about the key to their success, “Be a star in your role”. In fact, he said this numerous times throughout the long playoff run.

This particular player didn’t score a lot of points and had very few “highlight reel” plays, but all the commentators agreed that without his performance – there would not have been any celebration in Cleveland. He knew his role on the team as did every other team member. Some players never set foot on the court during the final series, yet during interviews they too talked about their roles.

Role clarity is one of the most important elements for team success – any kind of team. Think about the teams you are on and how clear everyone is about their roles. How much time have you spent talking about and clarifying roles? If your team is like most, very little.

What is it?

Role clarification is a process for teams to define individual and shared accountabilities which should be agreed upon by all and documented. This kind of clarity doesn’t happen naturally – it requires time, effort, dialogue, listening and often times a little conflict.

When to use it?

The ideal time to do this is as part of a team chartering process when a new team is formed. However, there are many other times this needs to be revisited such as when a team member’s responsibilities outside of the team change, changes in team membership or leadership, external changes like a re-organization or a shift in organizational priorities or strategy.

How to do it?

There are many questions and decisions to be made by the team when clarifying team member roles. We recommend that the team start by having every individual write out:

  • What they see as their individual and shared accountabilities related to the team
  • How they define success and how they expect to be measured
  • What do they see as their decision rights – what do they own, what can they veto and where do they have influence

Individuals then present this to the team as a whole for review, feedback, discussion and resolution of any conflicts. The team also needs to decide how it will hold each other accountable for fulfilling the role that has been agreed to.

These roles should be revisited periodically as things within the team or around it change.

As the clock runs down…

For the Cavaliers this kind of role confusion and clarification process played out for all the fans to see. In this case it involved a star player from another team, where they were the only star – joining a team with two other stars and everyone wondering how they would fit. It was a rocky road by all accounts and while a few questions still remain, the lack of role clarity finally was resolved, after almost two years and after hours of practice, a coaching change, many closed door meetings, occasional tweets and numerous private dinners. Most of your teams don’t have that kind of time.

At Kinetic Insights, our PathFinders are skilled in helping leaders unleash the greatness in themselves and in their organizations. Call or email us for a quick discussion that just might put you and your team on the path to significant change.

Andrew Powell’s focus is customized team and organizational change consulting as well as executive coaching for growth-minded commercial organizations, government entities and non-profits.

Andy’s focus is customized team and organizational change consulting as well as executive coaching for growth-minded commercial organizations, government entities and non-profits. View full bio