Fly The Plane

Handing out titles without clear job descriptions is one way to create tension and even serious problems on a team. Making such descriptions endlessly complicated and never-ending is another. So whether you are leading a group of people or part of the team, work towards a clear and concise understanding. Try to clarify expectations. And try to understand how you are all going to work together.

Aim for a brief, written job description that even I could understand. It is a bit embarrassing, but it took me two whole weeks to figure out how to answer a call on my new smartphone and another couple of weeks to sort out a few other basic functions. Assume that there are people like yours truly in close proximity to you. In other words, keep it simple.

It works best to let one person drive or fly 

What is your job, exactly? And what is not part of your job? What authority do you have within your area of responsiblity? And what is the limit of your delegated authority? There will always be a need for flexibility; a need to find a way to quickly work together when the precise details guiding how to work together are not clear. There are, however, ways to avoid chronic organizational problems and self-destructive tendencies.

The sad reality is that very little will likely be accomplished if the structure of your organization or team is not clear or not respected. And what does get accomplished will be accompanied by feelings of frustrating and futility. After awhile, no one will want to be a part of what is going on; their heart won’t be in it even if their body is still there. This reaction makes sense. Would you want to stick around if you couldn’t make a contribution without facing a significant backlash? And really, how many people want to be micro-managed or made to feel as if they don’t really count? Nobody that I know.

At the same time, leaders may feel reluctant to delegate specific responsibilities if they feel that their prerogative to do so is not respected in the first place. This can be very frustrating. It may be that their own role is not clear enough, or that they feel overwhelmed by far too many responsibilities. There is no time to work on clarifying other job descriptions, hammering out a few details, if their own job description is as vast as the sea and as hazy as the sky.

But trying to work together without a realistic and agreed upon way of how you are going to work together creates a lose-lose situation. Nobody wins. Things tend to crash. Everyone gets frustrated and sad. Yes, very sad.

More to the point, what needs to be avoided is a situation where two people or groups are unknowingly focused on the same small task. For this scenario creates hard feelings and much unnecessary conflict. As if you didn’t already know that. As well, this unfortunate situation drains positive energy out of an organization; it happens all the time. And this is one way to lose your sense of vision and learn how to fixate on petty politics really fast. This organizational faux pas makes for much wasted time and can create dangerous situations.

Years ago, I spent close to one year travelling and working on a team made up of seven young people. Far from being a negative experience, this adventure turned out to be one of the best years of my life. As part of our preparation in order to work together, we had over one month of intensive training. During that time, a clear form of government was established and a team leader was selected. At the same time, each person was assigned several roles and responsibilities that were absolutely necessary in terms of the effective functioning of the team.

There was no doubt about it: Each person was needed; everyone mattered. And we understood how we were going to work together. We knew who did what.

For example, one person on the team was responsible to ensure that we all took our malaria medication. This was a very important job. Since we were travelling in East Africa, malaria was a significant concern. The previous year, most of the team members had contracted this serious disease. But this tragic situation could have been prevented.

Now imagine what could have happened if no one had been clearly selected to take on this responsibility the following year. Or consider the consequences of having two people on the team who were adamantly convinced that this was their job.

It takes work, but it’s worth it to take the time to clarify roles and responsibilities.

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