role definition
March 1, 2018

Role Definition Workshops, a simple method to tune your team

By Hanne Sorteberg

Continuing our focus on designing your team, have you used role definition workshops?

It’s not an approach that I’ve used before. But, I’m delighted to welcome back, guest blogger Hanne Sorteberg, to share her experience. She has so much advice to share, this is the first of another two-part series.

Talking to Hanne, about these blog posts, I was impressed how this approach has worked for her, in very different sectors.

So, I recommend reading her advice, on one way to define the roles you need in your team. Over to Hanne to explain how…

Role Definition – the need for clearer roles

Balancing a team, with regard to capacity, skills and responsibilities, is an ongoing challenge. Is this you – or someone in your team?

  • I have too much to do and not enough time
  • I am always interrupted when I try to think
  • I think someone should be doing this.. but who?
  • I’m not sure how important this is, but it’s certainly urgent!

Employees often have roles that are undefined, with blurry boundaries between roles. Many teams have not aligned the amount of work they expect to deliver with their true capacity. People have too much to do, or keep busy doing things that are not really that important. In a situation like this, a manager is unable to secure that everyone is working toward a common, strategic goal.

In this blog – I offer one way to focus and balance your team’s effort. I have used this in media, financial and technology companies resulting in more clearly defined and efficient teams.

Role Definition – framing what is needed

The main framework, of this method, is made up of two axes: The “operational to strategic” axis vs. the “business to technical” axis. This applies to many modern-day teams, but your team may define a different set of axis. For example: “level of detail”; “customer vs. system” ; ”global vs. local”; “development vs. production” .

Role Definition Framework

The operational to strategic axis, is a spectrum. It ranges from doing frequent, operational tasks at one end, to setting long-term, strategic goals and plans at the other.

The hypothesis is, that if you have more than 50% of your time doing operational work, you will be 100% operational. That means you never get to the important, strategic stuff.

The business to technical axis is a range. That is from deep technical understanding and skill, to the overall business perspectives.

A single person, is not able to cover the entire breadth, of what the team will deliver along these two axes. Moreover, even if they had the skill, they will not be able to dedicate their time and focus to do it all.

The role definition method, is a series of workshops. These will map your teams tasks, along these axes, and group them into roles:

  1. Define all the tasks your team performs today
  2. Group the tasks into main tasks and estimate them
  3. Group main tasks into roles
  4. Assign roles to your team

The result, is a comprehensive collection of role and job descriptions. Together, these fulfil your team’s responsibilities and purpose.

To help you prepare, you can read my LinkedIn article, on how to succeed with workshops.

Role definition – workshop tasks performed

Gather your team, for a workshop to define all the tasks you do (or should be doing) today.

To warm up – discuss lessons learned the last year. What should we be doing more of? What should we do differently? Are there things we should stop doing?

Role Definition tasks

To define the team’s current tasks, do a brainstorming session of 10-20 minutes, with each person writing notes in silence. Each participant, writes one post-it sticker for each task. Write down all tasks, even if you don’t do them today but think you should, and even those you think someone else should be doing them. If uncertain, write a note anyway, do not leave anything out.

Example tasks: Answer customer calls. Report to Finance. Upgrade servers. Handle contracts.

After the brainstorming – draw your two axes on a large whiteboard. Ask everyone to put their stickies, approximately, on the right area. That is w.r.t. whether the task is operational, strategic, business or technical in nature. Group similar tasks and doubles.

Spend some time to consider, if some of the tasks should be performed outside your team. Are they better performed by another part of your organisation?

The result of this workshop, should be the sum of everything your team does, and should be doing. This is typically 40 – 100 tasks. That’s too much to handle, so the next stage in the process is to aggregate subtasks into a main task.

That will be the first step, that I share, in part two of this series.

Role Definition Workshops – could they help your team?

Thanks again to Hanne, for a really practical blog post. I’m sure you’re keen to try putting this into action & to read what comes next. Don’t worry, I’ll share part two later this week.

But, Hanne & I are also interested to hear your experience. Have you used role definition workshops. Have you found a different method works for you?

Please share your thoughts via comments box below or in response to our social media posts.

Best wishes in designing the team you need for 2018 & beyond.