How to ensure clear roles and expectations – Strategy #1 (of 31) – Explaining organisational context and how their work fits

We have previously published a series of practical leadership actions around the themes of people feeling supported, valued and safe; creating a ‘team environment’; supporting learning and growth; empowering staff and building autonomy; ensuring clarity of roles and expectations; and creating meaning and purpose.

We are now going to explore the actionable steps that you can take to enable the suggested strategies and actions.  This is one in a series of 31 posts providing specific descriptions of the actions in practice.

So, this post is focusing on the theme of role clarity.  In a previous post we have talked through 5 overarching strategies to ensure there is clarity of roles and expectations:

  1. Explain the organisational context and how their work fits.
  2. Build understanding of team purpose and role.
  3. Help individuals to understand their role.
  4. Set and maintain high standards of performance.
  5. Provide guidance on priorities.

In this post we take a deep dive into the specific strategy of:

Helping people see the bigger picture and the role they play in it, enables people to more deeply connect with the ‘why’ of their work and the importance of them ‘playing their role’ which drives motivation, performance, and accountability. 

So, here are some of the actions that can be taken to put this leadership strategy into practice:

a) Spend time explaining the ‘big picture’ to those in your team, focusing on where the organisation is headed and why.  During such activities as planning workshops, team meetings, team forums, and one-on-one meetings there is a great opportunity to engage people in understanding what the organisation is trying to achieve and the impact it is striving for. Ideally you are helping people personally connect with the value or impact that is meaningful to them – perhaps with stories, visuals, lived experiences that emotionally demonstrate the positive impacts on the organisation’s customers or stakeholders.  You want people to ‘feel’ something that stirs their passions and energy.

b) Discuss the team’s contribution to the bigger picture, highlighting the key strategic issues and ideas about how to deal with them.  Once people have connected with the ‘big picture’ at an emotional level, an important practical task is to clarify with the team how their work makes a direct contribution to higher-level divisional/organizational stated goals.  An interesting exercise can be to get the team to contemplate if it didn’t exist and the consequent problems and issues that might emerge – this can sharpen understanding of the critical value the team provides.  It is also valuable for the team to look ahead to identify the challenges and opportunities it foresees and undertake proactive action planning.

c) Provide context about their role and how it fits within the organisation and its direction.  Individuals want to both be clear about their role and to feel valued for their contribution – they want to know that their work matters.  This is not achieved by just having a position description!  Leaders should take the opportunity through regular one-on-ones, assignment of tasks/projects, and performance discussions to continually help people understand how their role connects and contributes to broader organizational priorities and goals.

d) Discuss senior leadership team decisions with the team and explain the context of those decisions so that they understand organisational directions.  Sometimes senior leadership decisions are communicated with limited or no context or reasoning behind those decisions.  A core responsibility of middle-level leaders is to make the effort to understand senior leadership decisions (through asking questions, reading documents etc.), so that they are well-placed to communicate those decisions and their context/reasoning to their staff.  This should contribute to building confidence in organisational leadership and direction.

e) Meet with the team on a regular basis to discuss what is happening at an organisational and Divisional level.  It is valuable for teams to have a good awareness of issues and activities happening outside of their own team.  This can help the team spot opportunities and risks, critical connection points, and appreciate how their work fits into the bigger picture.  This may involve such actions as regularly inviting other organisational staff to team meetings, asking staff to report at team meetings on broader projects they are part of, or reviewing business plans for other business units.

Having read this list, some questions you may want to ask yourself might be:

  • Are there one or two ideas emerging for me that I might want to put into practice?
  • What is the smallest thing I could do that might have a positive impact?
  • How will I hold myself accountable for following through on my actions?

Good luck!