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Blurred Lines

01 Dec 2021 8:00 AM | Anonymous

Dear Sophia,

I have been criticized for overstepping my role but the organization is a huge matrix and lines are often blurred. I want to talk to my co-workers about building trust and clarifying roles but am not sure how to approach the conversation. Can you help?  


Stepping up without Falling Over

Dear Stepping up without Falling Over,

It seems so obvious, yet why do organizations fail to realize that a lack of clear roles and reporting lines is a recipe for disaster?! When lines are blurred it is a constant challenge to stay on course, do your job according to manager’s expectations, and develop trust with colleagues. Ideally, your organization would have defined clearer roles for everyone. Unfortunately, not all organizations have their act together! I suggest tackling the lack of clarity head on. 

First, have conversations with stakeholders. Work with your supervisor(s)and colleagues to outline the concerns you all have based on your experiences. Whenever possible involve human resources and consider how your efforts will be presented to leadership. Come up with a list of concerns and possible solutions before approaching management as it may help get them on board! While you should mention your concerns, stay focused on the positive effects that clarifying roles would have, rather than the negative of the current situation. Ask your peers if they’ll join you in drafting this list—there is strength in numbers and having multiple perspectives will demonstrate the scope of the issue.

Next, work with your team and/or management to edit existing or develop new job descriptions. What was listed in the job posting before employees were hired may be a starting point, but often job descriptions were never created, or the reality has deviated a lot from the original plan. You should establish a detailed job description for each staff member that reflects what they actually do, or what the company wants them to do. This will be useful to refer to down the road if anyone veers off course. Be sure to include breakdowns of teams and how each member fits into the team. For example, you could include a description of what all team members do, then list what the team lead and secondary members each do. Job descriptions can also be used to simplify performance reviews (your manager may appreciate this!). They could also help to demonstrate the need to hire more staff once you realize what exactly everyone does and where there are gaps, or where it would make sense to divide roles differently.

A tool that many project managers use and may be helpful in this situation is a RACI chart, which for all intents and purposes is a roles and responsibilities matrix. While it typically revolves around projects, you can expand it to represent general responsibilities. RACI stands for:

  • Responsible

  • Accountable

  • Consulted

  • Informed

For every task, project, etc. in an office, someone takes on one of these roles. So for example if your organization sends a newsletter, perhaps you are responsible for creating it, your supervisor is accountable for it getting done (i.e. they don’t have to create it but if it doesn’t happen, they would get some heat), and perhaps other staff members should be consulted around content and then another group just needs to be informed that a newsletter exists and is moving forward. This is an overly simplified version but one that hopefully gets the point across and may be helpful in getting a better understanding of your team’s roles and responsibilities. This could be a great visual tool to recommend and perhaps an exercise to do together as a team.

If you can show your colleagues that you’re trying to improve things, with any luck they will appreciate your effort instead of accusing you of overstepping. 

Confidentially Yours,


P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Asking for a Friend? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.


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