Description: Conflicts may arise, or productivity may suffer, because people are not clear on what they are supposed to be doing relative to each other. The following techniques may be used for either team or work roles (see “Roles” on my Full Scale agile™ site, which has detailed instructions for defining each). If you are having problems in both areas, perform the chosen technique separately for each.
- Schedule this exercise for an upcoming team meeting.
- Provide this in writing at least a week before the meeting, and send a reminder a couple of business days before: “Please come up with the following information before the meeting:
- “At least three major projects or functions—not tasks—for which you are responsible.
- “Who you must work with to meet each responsibility.
- “What specific tasks you must do to meet each responsibility.
Add: “Please do not consult with the other team members; if you are not sure whether to list something, list it anyway.”
- At the meeting:
- Go around the room and have everyone share their lists, one at a time, without comments by the others.
- When done, review any overlaps between the lists, and work out who really is responsible in each case.
- Then ask: “What major projects or functions are missing from this list that the team should be doing?”
- List them.
- Work out responsibility for each new item.
- Write up the results.
- At a later meeting (after people have time to think about them), negotiate team approval.
Official job descriptions, if they exist, can become divorced from the reality of the work over time. Often they are thought about only when a job comes open, or in larger companies, during the performance appraisal process. You can identify potential sources of conflict by having everyone write descriptions of their jobs as they see them and discussing the results.
Make clear that no one is to look at their official job description first, if there is one, or to talk about the exercise with others who have the same job. The point is to get each person’s view of the reality of their job.
Set an action item for everyone to write a job description for their job as actually performed, listing:
- Their official job title.
- A job title that reflects what they really do.
- Five to 10 job duties.
- Five to 10 skills the job requires.
- Five to 10 personality traits or behaviors someone in the job should have.
Note: Each of the above should be one sentence.
- In a meeting, have each team member read aloud the description they wrote.
- Ask, “What job duties were claimed for more than one person or job title that should only be done by one of them?”
Note: Even if team members have the same job title, there may be overlaps that are causing problems.
- On the board, create a list titled, “Overlaps.”
- Ask, “What job duties were not claimed by anyone that someone on the team needs to do?”
- Create a list titled, “Gaps.”
- Ask, “Are there any duties someone has listed that we think they should not have to do?
- Create a list titled, “Traps.”
- Negotiate which job title should take each overlap and gap.
- Decide what to do about each trap.|
Note: Possibilities include:
- Eliminate the duty.
- Transfer it to another person or title.
- Attempt to transfer it to another team or an outside vendor.
- Find a way to automate it, for example by buying a software application to route workflow.
- If everyone on the team has the same title, negotiate a single job description and skip to Step 3.
- Set an action item for people to meet in groups by title to negotiate final descriptions.
- In the next team meeting, repeat the steps under “Compare Descriptions” above using the results of the previous step.
- Obtain team approval for the final version(s).
Propose Official Changes
If the company has official job descriptions, taking these optional steps could help align the team’s efforts with the company’s hiring, performance appraisal, and pay systems:
- Set action items for someone to:
- Request a meeting among the team, the team manager, and a representative from the Human Resources Department.
- Distribute copies to the team of the official descriptions related to the ones the team created.
- At the meeting, show the manager and HR rep your new descriptions and explain how they were created.
- Ask if the new ones can be used to revise or replace the official descriptions.
Though a fairly complicated approach, “Role Maps” can clarify members’ interactions with each other. Members create maps showing their work relationships to identify and correct misunderstandings.
You may print a copy of these instructions to any member who does not have access to the site. You might want to ask all members to do the first two sections beforehand and bring their maps to the meeting.
Create Individual Maps
- On a sheet of paper, draw a circle in the middle and write the word “Me” in it.
- Draw circles for your supervisor and up to five other people you interact with on the team to accomplish your work, keeping in mind:
- These should be direct connections—not people you usually interact with through another person—so do not put a circle between yours and another one.
- Vary the size of the circle based upon how much influence that person has over your success or failure in completing your tasks. In other words, if you cannot do your job right if the other person does not do theirs, the other person’s circle should be pretty big. If you can get your job done without that person most of the time, make that person’s circle small compared to other circles.
- Vary the distance between circles by how much you interact with that person. If you interact with the person a lot to complete your work, your circles should be close; if not, their circle should be relatively far away.
Note: Refer to the example image below.
- Draw one or more lines between your circle and each of the others for the primary type of work communication you have:
- A one-headed arrow represents communications that mostly go one way, such as orders from your boss, information you provide a team member on a regular basis, etc.
- A two-headed arrow means you have work-related discussions with this person often.
- A line with no arrow heads means there is very little communication of any type—you only take or give deliverables to or from that person.
Note: If you wish, you could have one line between a pair of circles or one of each type. You could also have two one-headed arrows, one in each direction—if, for example, a colleague sometimes feeds you data and you sometimes give him or her information, but you rarely have to discuss that information.
- Darken each line to show how often each happens.
Example: An arrow you draw to show daily communications will be thicker or darker than one you draw to someone you talk with once a month.
- For each arrow, if you think one of the following problems happens, mark it as shown:
- If there is a lot of conflict, draw a wavy line along the arrow.
- If messages do not seem to get across—there are frequent miscommunications, in other words—draw a single dark line across the arrow.
- Under or above each circle, draw a vertical line.
- On the left side of each, write up to three tasks, deliverables, or information you need from that person on a regular basis.
- On the right side, write up to three you think the other person expects from you.
Example: In the example below, a project manager (PM) has listed five other people. Communications are good and frequent with team member Liu, who has a moderate impact on the PM’s ability to get her tasks done (based on the circle size). The PM only needs data from Dan, the database administrator, but needs it regularly and has trouble getting it. She gets purchasing information from Teresa, and that goes well. Kwame, the project sponsor, and “The Boss” have a lot of impact on the PM’s job, but there are problems with those relationships. Kwame and the PM do not communicate often, and they often misunderstand each other. The PM talks to her boss frequently, but they have a lot of conflict. She has bravely noted her view that the boss wants only “good news” from her.
Sample Role Map
Discuss in Pairs
Note: The remaining steps must be done in meetings.
- Have members count off (number themselves out loud).
- Have them pair off as follows: 1-3, 2-4, 5-7, 6-8, etc.
- Say: “If neither partner is on the other’s map, or if you do not have a partner, raise your hand.”
- Among those with raised hands, if one has another on their map, pair them up.
- Ask the others to take a ten-minute break but return on time.
- For ten minutes, have the assigned pairs compare their maps and their lists of expectations for each other, adding: “If the lists differ, see if you can negotiate identical lists. If the arrows differ, discuss why and try to match them up—do not try to fix any problems you have identified in your arrows right now; just see if you can agree on the arrow type. Do not worry about finishing in ten minutes. The goal is to get the discussions started.”
- Repeat steps 3–6 for these pairs: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, etc.
- Repeat steps 3–6 for these pairs: 1-4, 2-5, 3-6, 7-10, etc.
Complete the Process
- When done, lead a general discussion about what members learned.
- Set an action item for each member to meet with anyone on their maps with whom they have not met yet and do steps 2–6 above before the next meeting.
- At the next meeting, ask if any changes need to be made to the Team Charter or members’ job descriptions as a result of the exercise, and assign action items if so.
During a meeting:
- Give members sticky notes.
- Using three notes, have each person:
- Write a decision or type of decision that must be made on a regular basis for the team to get work done.
- Label the note with whom you think should make that decision or type, regardless of who does now:
- “Manager”—If you think the manager should make that decision or type.
- “Team”—If you think the team should make that decision together.
- “Members”—For decisions you think each team member should be able to make on their own.
- A member’s name—If you think a specific team member should make the decision for the team, because of that person’s expertise or job title.
- The name of another manager or team in the company.
- A question mark (?)—If you are not sure who should make it.
- On the board, create six columns and label them with the options above.
- Have everyone place their notes in the matching columns on the board.
- When done, work through each decision note to decide:
- If the team agrees the decision is needed.
- If so, who should make it.
- Set an action item for someone to create a master chart and add it to the Team Charter.
Full citations for the footnotes are here.
 Technique based on Shonk 1982.