I meet with people working in large companies on a daily basis and too often hear complaints about 'role clarity' - I always come away confused about the remark.
The concept of role clarity has been lauded as a cornerstone of effective teamwork, particularly in large organisations. But is it always beneficial, or could it be a double-edged sword? I think it is usually a big red signal of something more sinister at play.
Role Clarity in Large Organisations
I am just going to lay it out there - in big companies, role clarity often becomes a mechanism for delineating work, sidestepping responsibility, and even laying blame. It’s a safe haven in environments where trust is low and teamwork is more about fulfilling one's predefined role than truly collaborating.
The High-Functioning Team Paradox
In high-performing teams, the boundaries between roles aren't just blurred—they're actively crossed. This isn't a byproduct of disorganisation; it’s a feature of a healthy, collaborative environment. Members of these teams are T-shaped, meaning they have depth in their own domain but sufficient knowledge across other disciplines to constructively challenge and collaborate.
The "Stepping on Toes" Complaint
When you hear someone complain about team members stepping on their toes, it's worth investigating the underlying issue. Is it truly about role encroachment, or could it be a symptom of deeper issues like lack of trust or capability?
The Value of Multidisciplinary Skills
Look at figures like Elon Musk, who constantly crosses boundaries between engineering, product, design, and marketing. The ability to understand, question, and even challenge decisions across different fields can be an invaluable asset.
Rethinking Role Clarity
Next time you hear complaints about lack of role clarity or people stepping on each other’s toes, dig deeper. Examine whether trust or capability issues might be the real culprits stifling collaboration and productivity. Encourage team members to be flexible, multidisciplinary, and, in the best sense of the word, "dangerous."
Role clarity has its place, especially in large, low-trust environments. But in a truly collaborative setting, rigidity around roles can be more of a hindrance than a help. In high-functioning teams, responsibilities bleed healthily across roles, and that's not just okay—it's essential for achieving the best outcomes.