by Jay Bransford 

Has the following ever happened to you?… There is an important project or event coming up that you’re in charge of.  You plan out WHAT needs to get done, you assign people to different tasks and responsibilities, and you seem to have everyone’s agreement and commitment.  But as times goes by you see that some people don’t follow through with what you were expecting.  Either the work doesn’t get done, or you have to step up and do it yourself.  You are frustrated with your team and don’t understand why things aren’t getting done or aren’t getting done correctly.

If you’re like most people, you have experienced this kind of situation more than once in your life.  Perhaps you were the frustrated leader.  Or perhaps you were a frustrated staff member who inadvertently frustrated your leader by not fulfilling his or her expectations.  It happens far too often.

The reality of life is that the successful achievement of goals requires constant 2-way communication.  And one of the key elements of communication is clarifying people’s unique roles on the team.  A question you should always ask yourself is, “How clear am I being about what I’m asking people to do and how could I improve?”

8 Factors in Defining Roles

Whether you are a team leader or a team member, there are certain elements of defining roles that will help you minimize the likelihood and frustrations of unmet performance expectations.  Below are 8 factors to consider any time you are defining a role.  You’ll see a general description, a bible reference from the book of Nehemiah that demonstrates the point, as well as questions to ask yourself and to clarify with the person to whom you are considering giving the role.

1.  Goal/Success

Often times people need or want to know the bigger picture about what they are being asked to do and why.  By describing the goal or what you’re asking of them, and defining what successful achievement of that role would look like, you help people to more clearly understand what you are expecting of them and why. (Nehemiah 2:1-5)

Questions to ask and clarify:

2.  Process

Sometimes it makes sense to allow people to determine for themselves how best to complete a task or responsibility.  Other times it is best to have consistency in how things get done, and thus a process may be developed that helps ensure both the consistency and the quality level for how things get done.  If you have any expectations about HOW a role or responsibility should be done, make sure to clarify that with people up front.  (Nehemiah 4:7-23)

Questions to ask and clarify:

3.  Tasks/Responsibilities

Whether is it necessary to define any processes or not, oftentimes it is helpful to clarify the specific tasks or responsibilities you are expecting someone to perform.  Make sure to clearly communicate WHAT you are expecting people to do. (Nehemiah 3)

Questions to ask and clarify:

4.  Timing

People need to know the timelines of WHEN you expect them to do things or complete things.  If it’s important, make sure to clarify when you expect someone to start an activity, when you expect them to give updates about their progress with that activity, and when you expect them to complete certain tasks or activities.   (Nehemiah 4:15-16 and 21-23)

Questions to ask and clarify:

5.  Skill

At times people fail to fulfill our expectations because we have asked them to do something that they are not sufficiently skilled to do.  As a leader, it is your responsibility to gauge people’s skill levels and assign them roles and responsibilities that are in reasonable alignment with their skills.  (Nehemiah 7:1-3)

Questions to ask and clarify:

6.  Confidence

Sometimes people fail to complete tasks because they lack the self-confidence to take action.  Certain things in life require confidence to do well.  Think about speaking in front a group of people and the role that self-confidence plays.  Think about the impact of a lack of self-confidence when playing sports, or singing, or playing an instrument.  Don’t set people up for failure by asking them to do things that they lack sufficient confidence to do.  (Nehemiah 4:12-14)

Question to ask and clarify:

7.  Commitment

By the grace of God, we have been given free-will.  This means that people can choose for themselves what they want to do, when they want to do it, where, how, and with whom.  Remember that just because you ask someone to do something, and even if you know it’s a really important or valuable role, that person still may not have a high level of excitement or commitment to fulfill the role.  Confirming true commitment is key.  High levels of commitment often equal a timely and high quality final outcome.  (Nehemiah 5:14-19)

Questions to ask and clarify:

8.  Support/Feedback

Even with the best of intentions, sometimes people fail to perform well due to a lack of feedback and support along the way.  People need to know if they are on track.  They need encouragement.  They need prayer.  And sometimes they need practical help.  (Nehemiah 4:15-22 and 5:8-12)

Questions to ask and clarify:

Clearly defining key roles is critical to effectively working in teams.  It is a 2-way communication process that requires ongoing dialogue until the tasks or role is complete.  Try using the 8 factors in defining roles above and watch as the productivity of your team increases, the morale of your team improves, and your team relationships strengthen.


**For more resources from the ALLC on Defining Roles, click here.

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