Clarity of Roles Essential for Team Collaboration

Which is more important to promoting collaboration: a clearly defined approach toward achieving the goal, or clearly specified roles for individual team members?

The common assumption is that carefully spelling out the approach is essential, while leaving the roles of individuals within the team open and flexible will encourage people to share ideas and contribute in multiple dimensions.

New research has shown that the opposite is true: collaboration improves when the roles of individual team members are clearly defined and well understood. Without such clarity, team members are likely to waste energy negotiating roles or protecting turf, rather than focusing on the task.

Team members are more likely to want to collaborate if the path to achieving the team’s goal is left somewhat ambiguous. If a team perceives the task as one that requires creativity, where the approach is not yet well known or predefined, its members are more likely to invest more time and energy in collaboration.

The leader’s role is to ensure that the roles and responsibilities of the team members are clearly defined.  Conversely, leaders should help team members understand the project’s importance and ultimate objective but leave the exact approach to the discretion of the team.

Excerpted from “The Biggest Mistake You (Probably) Make With Teams” by Tammi Erickson.  Click here to read the full article.

For more great resources on teams, visit the HBR Insight Center, The Secrets of Great Teams.

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