Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What's wrong with role confusion?

Are you one of those unfortunates who doesn't have a clear idea of your job boundaries? Where your job responsibilities start and end?

If so, I feel sorry for you. It's terrible!

There's nothing more annoying than role confusion.

As a human resources specialist, I was often called to sort out issues that occurred within my organisation that came down to role confusion.

Marion Cook (HREF-1) identified the following six symptoms of role confusion:

  1. Lack of clarity regarding who has the authority to make decisions
  2. A lack of decision "stickiness," or revisiting decisions once they are made
  3. Over or under inclusion of the right people in the right meetings
  4. Over or under communication of project information
  5. People in a "wait state" being unproductive or working on unimportant tasks
  6. Uneven workloads across the team 
To her points, I would add poor morale, interference to productivity (other than people 'watching and waiting'), and unnecessary duplication of tasks.  

Role confusion can lead to petty bickering between employees about responsibilities. This creates morale issues and also diverts resources from the organisation's key objectives, whatever they are.

The Solution?

The solution should be obvious; it's to clearly define who does what and when.

Larger organisations have organisation charts that divide their organisation, usually along functional lines. If you are in the accounting department, you don't expect to carry out engineering roles and vice versa.

Next step down is to have a work plan (business plan) for each department that sets out its aims, objectives and key performance indicators. This plan helps keep the department focused and also informs people within the department of their roles.

Once the specific tasks within a department have been identified, they are assigned to a duty statement associated with a specific job. These should serve to cover the vast majority of tasks and clearly delineate individual responsibilities.

When new tasks arise, or tasks are identified that have not previously been assigned to a job, managers should take the initiative to assign them at the earliest to prevent confusion.


Role confusion can destroy an organisation if left to do so. Good managers must ensure that everyone within their chain of command understands what their roles are, their boundaries and how their role interfaces with the roles of other employees.

Does your organisation suffer role confusion? If so, what are you doing about it?


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