Episode #33: Role Clarity: Why It Matters More Than Ever in Today’s Business Environment

Leadership is Calling Episode #33
Barbara Schindler & Heather McGonigal

Role Clarity: Why It Matters More Than Ever in Today’s Business Environment


“Functional org charts are vital for team alignment, clarity, and enabling growth.” -Barbara 

Role clarity is essential for any successful organization. When team members and leaders have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities, they can work more effectively together and achieve their goals more efficiently. However, role clarity can be difficult to achieve, especially in fast-paced and ever-changing environments.

Heather and Barbara discuss the importance of functional org charts for creating role clarity in growing companies. They explain how functional org charts visualize responsibilities and make restructuring smoother as organizations evolve. Role clarity enables team members to advocate for fully utilizing their skills. It also determines who should be in key meetings to improve decision making. They emphasize that functional org charts are living documents that need regular reassessment as things change through coaching conversations. The overarching message is that functional org charts are vital for team alignment, clarity, and enabling growth.

Key Points
  • Functional org charts visualize roles and responsibilities in an organization. They’re living documents that evolve as a company grows.
  • Role clarity, enabled by functional org charts, helps team members advocate for using their skills and experience fully.
  • Restructuring is common as companies grow. Using functional org charts makes this process smoother by clarifying roles.
  • Including the right people in meetings improves decision making. Functional org charts show who should be in the room.
  • Regular coaching conversations keep roles aligned with company needs as things change.
Related Resources

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Auto-Generated Transcript – unedited version

Role Clarity: Why It Matters More Than Ever in Today’s Business Environment


Heather: Hi, Barbara. I was just thinking of you because I was reorganizing some of the materials for our year long program last night. And the area I was up- leveling of our training had to do with clarified roles.

And I know that role clarity comes up a lot in a lot of different ways as we work with our entrepreneurial clients and as the businesses go through different stages. And that some leaders need our teaching and training on how to have responsibility for communicating about what’s on their plate, how it’s going, what their role actually is, you know, and keep getting that clear even as things change.

So I was wondering what you might have to share with me about role clarity and why it’s mattering more in the current business environment.

Barbara: You know, like so many of our clients, because of the current business environment, the external factors that are really impacting whether it’s the downturn economy, the online marketing is definitely on its its downslope after a really great ride of developing and growing in business as an industry and, and just in general, you know it’s one of those times in business where a lot of the way things have been operating are not getting the same results for multiple reasons.

And it depends on the size of the company and where they started and where they are, too. But, you know, when I think about role clarity right now, the thing that’s most on mind, you know, in our working with our clients, in our program and in our ah, coaching and private clients is, is that, you know, working with change and how you know, that role clarity and revisiting the role clarity and how important the team for the business one in the team is but then also how important how that team is operating together and building, you know, the empowerment for them to get more and more clear of their part, creating more and more safety to do their parts together and keep getting aligned, moving through that change, it’s tricky.

It’s tricky times for that definitely impacts, you know, a lot of the changes are coming because of the business part, but it really activates the development in the people part. And I think it’s important when we work with our clients that we’re teaching them that you are supposed to have clarity on your role, on the expectations maybe in relation to the business picture. So what am I really being held accountable to deliver in this role?

Heather: And I was speaking with a coaching client this week who is aware that things are changing in her role, but nothing is definite yet. So she’s kind of hanging out, waiting to find out, well, what is this change in my role? What does it mean? And yeah, like, what does it change about what I’m supposed to be doing every day? And it’s sort of an uncomfortable place for a team member to be.

But I wanted to get your opinion on this because part of what I coached around it was knowing and being empowered that she can keep inquiring to get the clarity right. So if the meeting’s not happening, to get the role clarity, sometimes the team member has to be the one raising their hand again to say like, I think this is important that we get aligned on the expectations for my role. When are we having that follow up conversation and that that’s okay because an individual team member having role, clarity and knowing what’s expected of them helps the business. It’s important to the business.

So it’s another thing if the leadership team is like, Well, wait a minute, we’re going to roll that out to you by September and you just have to be patient. The instance I’m talking about is a little more like something. It’s clear that we’re not clear on what is expected from the role now. But now further clarity has been confirmed and the calendar keeps going by. And so the leaders I work with empower them to know to go ahead and ask. Go ahead and get that meeting, get that clarity, because it’s important to the business. But what do you think?

Barbara: Unless you’re in the early start up phase of an entrepreneurial business, which at that time there aren’t clear roles, you know, that that needs to evolve.

But in the very beginning stage of an entrepreneurial business, that’s not important. And so there’s a couple of pieces to think about there. But once that business is starting to gain some traction and move into where the business needs some systems and processes and, you know, there’s more activity happening, there is a program to deliver, there’s marketing to happen, there’s operations where where those functional parts of the business, you know, are starting to form. That’s when you want to start building real clarity.

And of course, it’s a process, right? So in the beginning it’s kind of all hands on deck and you can still move from stage one stage to business square a little bit, still all hands on deck. You might be helping out in marketing and program delivery and doing some of the project management in all those different ways.

But all the thinking, if it’s held in the what we call the top of the triangle, right, the lead operations person or the lead marketing person or the CEO themselves, the founder might be the person who’s holding all the strategic thinking and all the how we’re going to get it done and all the how is it going now? Thinking like that doesn’t work. It will implode at some point.

And so you know what you’re talking about in that example is more of an organized restructuring versus that natural development. And either way, having role clarity developing in a timely manner is going to be super helpful. Right? And so that’s one piece.

Heather: And absolutely, I totally agree. If you’re a, you know, a leader in an entrepreneur, a company that’s growing to the point of you’re realizing, hey, like I’m doing a lot of stuff, but I’m not holding ownership of any of it, I’m not feeling the responsibility of that outcome. Yes, raise your hand because the business needs that and proactively would be very cool. It would be impressive to to say, hey, you know, I think I’m thinking that I could, you know, contribute at a higher level and, you know, perform more contribution into the teamwork if there was more of a role clarity where not only a level of responsibility but a level of authority, a level of decision making or reporting even would be more clear in the expectations. And my role team needs that. We all need that leader, the CEO needs that. Like what’s my part now? It’s my part now so that we can really have a good interaction.

Barbara: So definitely for that phase and definitely as you’re talking, Heather, I think in your example, it sounds like an organization that’s more moving through a structured restructure. And even then, hey, I’m feeling the impact in my role of this uncertainty. Not only is it uncomfortable, Yep, that’s okay, we know that. But also like you need to surface how it’s impacting so that, you know, a restructure is a process. Maybe they’re not sharing enough information in that process for the team to be functioning while they’re going through a restructure. Does that make sense?

Heather: Yes. And there was something you sort of spoke to which I felt was related to sometimes when rolls get title changes because it communicates to the rest of the team this level of responsibility that I’m now carrying. So if I’m the director of the department, that could be really important for my other team members to understand the level of responsibility I’m holding. It’s kind of like sometimes we hear inside of companies that people don’t know who to go to for what and people don’t know.

Well, a lot of people give their opinion on this thing, but who has more of the deciding vote? Right. And that is really can be communicated through people having the proper role titles and positions and the positions making sense in relationship to one another. Is that correct?

Barbara: Yeah, that’s why we call it a functional organizational chart, not a you know, how we do it. Organizational chart. We were just working with the client yesterday. It comes to mind because they were, you know, it’s a new client for us. And so when we meet to start an engagement with a company, we do what we call a boot camp. It’s like we listen a lot and ask, Who are you? How do you operate? Tell us about where your business is that give us some history. Tell us where you want to go. And, you know, we kind of just really receive a lot of information.

And so, you know, as we were listening and writing that out, you know, it was like, you know, Amanda does this, this and this and Joe does this, this and this. And, you know, we were making a chart, but that’s a people chart, right? And they don’t have the titles and the leadership yet. So we made a point to stay in that process. Like what we’re going to do is turn this into a functional org chart that talks about the functions of the business. And those usually are, you know, as that entrepreneurial business grows, you know, it’s usually like production marketing. There might be a sales channel, you know, the acquisition of the clients or that’s bundled right into track of traffic and conversion in your marketing area. Sometimes it has its own little area, depending on the type of ways that people sell in their business. Right? Then you have centrally the operations. That’s your h.r. Your legal, your financial, your systems and processes, your main overall project management.

Then you have your program delivery like that. The rest of that part is then like what we promised to do and how we’re doing it in the client journey and, and you know, the retention in the clients and, and being sure we’re satisfying what we have promised and even beyond to, to keep our clients getting the best from us. So maybe coaching teams and client service and all of those type of things as well as, you know, the training and deliveries themselves.

So all of those functional areas start getting mapped out and then you put the people in those spots wherever they are. And even if they are all over, as I said earlier. So that part is, you know, it’s a little bit of a mindset shift, you know, for people to start seeing the business structure and how the people are performing in that. And then absolutely, the level of title can vary in the entrepreneurial teams and companies a little bit more than maybe in the corporate structure, or that has a little more unification between companies.

Heather: But in general, you know, every level of someone’s role is super valuable to achieve the outcomes of the business, right?

Barbara: But we do have a functional level of team members and then we have managers, and that’s the level that generally starts forming the cross-functional thinking.

So those leaders of managers of different functional areas form a cross-functional thinking and collaborating team and that generally they’re like, I think of that group as the heart of the business, like really the center of how we get our outcomes. They’re responsible for taking the projects, planning out the strategic plan and executing the day to day work that happens to make those goals.

And then if you move to a next level, you have directors and the PS or and then the C-suite CEO, Oh, or chief of staff or whatever, once you move past that manager level, there’s also an element of responsibility for the business itself. How do you know, what’s the profitability of, you know a director of programs not only is responsible for the cross-functional part for the outcomes of what we’ve promised, but also starts holding authority, which also means they might have more information.

So what they were talking about, like who’s the person, you know, that we’re structuring the communication line is because that person not only has responsibility and authority, they generally might also have the most up to date and clear or the history information. So that’s why we want to recognize that those different levels mean something. I think that is what you’re going for. Is that what you’re thinking?

Heather: Well, in the role title communicates something and like to just what you just said in this particular instance that I would I had in mind. It actually clarified what meetings this person should be in at this point in time in the organization.

Barbara: Right. Which always has to be kind of reevaluated. Not every moment, but as the company grows, it needs to be reevaluated.
Heather: Right. And so this leader’s title needed to change, to communicate to people that level of responsibility, but it also would help them assess, do we have this person with this expertise in the meetings where we’re making decisions, where that expertise needs to be in the room? So it’s interesting how all of this is kind of intertwined and very important.

And I wanted to go back to also what you were explaining about the functional org chart and how you first define if we had a blank piece of paper here, put buckets up for the different functional things that happen within the business, and then we put our team members’ names in those boxes. And so, for example, my name Heather might be in multiple boxes across different functional areas. Right? And that sort of tells a story of the responsibilities I’m holding, who I’m working with in these areas. It should show in that functional org chart who is holding that main responsibility right?

Barbara: And it also made me think of when you were talking through that for everyone about, you know, one of the first times I learned the real power of a functional org chart was in coaching someone, and they did that exercise of creating a functional org chart along with their CEO and their CEO said, Go ahead and put your name in all the places that you hold a major responsibility. And this team member’s name was everywhere. And it was a moment that they could, you know, laugh together because, you know, it had been unclear exactly what this person’s role was.

And it was kind of like, of course, because this person is literally everywhere, like trying to do all the things. And, you know, we always need those types of people in earlier entrepreneurial stages of business. But then as the business grows, it has to get dialed in more so that hopefully we’re using each person for their strongest expertise to get the most value or at least that’s how I think about it.

And in this instance, that CEO and the leader were able to look at the chart and go, You know, I appreciate that you’re in all the things, but I actually want to free you up to have other people take some of these other responsibilities, like keeping our CRM up to date and cleaned because you don’t need to do that. You’re a brilliant creator and marketing mind. I want you spending your time the majority thinking over here and that really came through the process of filling, creating, birthing a functional org chart that represented the moment the company at that moment in time.

And I know that this is kind of big that companies right now are doing a lot of restructures as it would make sense right in tighter financial times. We have to take a closer look at everything and how it is operating and what, you know, maybe we do things a certain way because that’s how it happens. And but are we actually doing them in the ways that make the most sense?

Heather: Right. And so a lot of people are looking at their functional org charts with you.
Very much like we’re definitely working with a lot of companies right now for multiple reasons. But the biggest reason things have changed right? And so change, internal change needs to happen when the external environment is changing and the results you’re getting in the way you’re doing, it needs to change along with all the other changes.

And you know, a lot of times that can look like somebody’s thoughts to go a couple of different directions. So I’ll try to follow my thoughts a little bit. But one of them, you know, that just popped into my head is, you know, a lot of times when we meet people, it’s at the level of leadership in change that is like crisis to crisis to crisis. Let’s fix this. Oh, no, this is happening. Right.

And we want to get to another level of being able to really think and navigate through change. That’s that next level of being able to have the emotional endurance that changes happening and results are working. And how it just you said something earlier, how they’re like, well, that’s kind of just how it just landed. That’s not quite what you said, but that’s what you were saying, right? It’s just like this naturally happens and you reach those moments where you want to take a look at what’s naturally happening and see if it makes sense.

And that’s that’s that place where you want to get that functional picture first, as you said, without the people, because that’s what the business needs, what functions need to happen based on what we’re doing, what we’re going for, Right? So from our marketing strategy to our delivery promise and programs and how we do that, that defines the actions in the different areas, then we can, you know, it’s not you know, it’s not uncommon to have people be like, whoa, okay, we’ve been operating in, you know, everybody helping and where it needs to happen, when it needs to happen. Right.

Barbara: And we’re working particularly with a company right now, you know, So we’ve been taking them through that. I’m thinking of one particular where, you know, the team cohesion of getting things done is excellent. They work together great, and they’re working all over the company based on, oh, we’re doing this right now. We’re doing that right now, and Wednesday we’re doing this right now. But as we started looking at and developing the functional picture, you know, it was almost as dramatic as you’re talking about with that CEO. And their leader is just like, oh, and you can kind of see where you want to lean into.

You know, it’s like, yes, I’m doing a lot of work in customer service, but where I could contribute even more, you know, is if I was leading in the marketing area and moved away from that piece. And so that’s when you start putting the people into that for working through a reorg or a new organization of a team. And you see you can see some of it actually happens as in that case with that CEO saying like well I see great value when you’re strategically sharing in marketing and you know, I want more of that too.

So it becomes a process. Now, it’s interesting.

Heather: I want to go back really quick to the team meeting part, right. Which is so important in a role clarity piece. And it’s like that team member that you were mentioning, she’s like, you know, when am I going to know the change? Because I’m kind of in limbo, right?

Barbara: Well, you have to realize that all this backend process needs to happen because as soon as you start structuring those role clarity, absolute leads, you want to, you know, take a look at your team meetings, you know, and who should be there for the most productive meetings is going to start depending on their levels of responsibility, the levels of information they carry, what resource they are, and what are those expectations that they’re one meeting to deliver and to they they they’re processing and thinking about or they’re in that action. You know, and I love to say, you know, the best information is where the action is, right?

So who needs to be in this conversation? Even if we’re not making a decision, you might need different people functioning in in a team meeting for the best collaborative thinking, even if it’s going to then get which is great, brought up to the CEO who’s really going to make the decision but certainly can’t, not in today’s environment, not at the stage of businesses that we are at today. The CEO doesn’t have enough information to make all the best strategic and creative and innovative decisions. Not now, not anymore. And that’s not going to change. That’s only going to keep going that way. Yeah.

I think that’s about this meeting assessment situation. It’s kind of funny, but sometimes the people with the expertise of how to do a certain thing aren’t in the meeting when we’re deciding, like, how should we solve this problem? And it crosses over into this area and you would think, well, we should have some people in here that know what it takes to actually make that happen, because it would be part of knowing whether a solution we come up with is actually going to work or not. but sometimes that thinking doesn’t occur and leadership is making decisions without the expertise of the people who have to do it in the room. And they’re missing some valuable information.

They might have a really good meeting, decide on an approach that once it gets taken to the team, that has to execute it. It’s like, well, that doesn’t actually that won’t work. You know, we work within the software that won’t let us do that or something like that. And so that’s why I also think it’s really important to think like, do we have the right thinking in the room around this meeting table, whether we’re virtual or in person. I think about it like for each meeting there are all the right people in the seats that have the thinking that we need to think around this, these topics or these problems that generally get brought up or solved within this meeting.

Heather: I’m thinking of an example of a manager in a rather large entrepreneurial company that we work with, and he’s the manager in developing the app right. And, you know, he came into coaching and he’s just like I’m always in the meetings after they’ve made the decisions. How can I get on the other end of that when they’re in the process. Right. Is exactly what you’re talking about And that was brilliant for him. It’s kind of like I’m sitting there and I’ve been thinking that I wasn’t able to contribute. Now I’m just dealing with whatever they decided because it’s already moved forward and now I’m being brought in. And that was such a great point to bring to the leadership to be like, Oh, wait a minute, where can we bring him and his collaborative thinking in at a better spot?

Barbara: Yeah, that’s a really good example and one that if people are watching this conversation, this podcast episode or what have you, they might think of course people think of that. But I would say probably in every company you can find a meeting where we’re leaving some important people out of the conversation because we get our meetings dialed in and then the company grows and the businesses grow and shift. And all of this is like a shifting, changing picture that needs to be revisited again and again for how we make the best use of the time and the human resources within the organization.

Heather: And I just I was thinking and in this example I was bringing forward, even going back to the example you had earlier, where, yes, it’s your role and your responsibility to raise your hand if you’re in the process of change and it’s impacting your daily performance, like bring it to the table in the same way this leader was bringing to the table like nobody else to do his thinking and his experience, right? So if he didn’t surface that, that would be a loss really right now that that brought the pause to, hey. .

And of course, it continues right. Like don’t assume, you know, another example is a leader moving through a process of change and her daily work was being impacted because there was a lot of waiting and assuming they’re really focused on her part and the part that’s impacting her daily work when it was the big change movement through the organization. And, you know, I did coach her and she did step forward to be like, Hey, I’m just checking in. Here is what I’m doing now. And I’m feeling a little on a pause. I’m fine with the pause if it’s needed, but I just want to know if there’s any next step I could be focusing on, you know, happy to be in the process. But just here’s where it’s impacting this moment. And it was a really good thing to do that because there were so many areas of change being talked about and thought about on other leadership levels that it was important for her to bring that forward. Right. To just be like, oh, okay, let’s check in on that part and see how we can move something a little bit forward for the impact it’s having. Right? And so the process of change is so important and, you know, it can be a little change or a big change. But that role clarity is so important in that even if you’re one of the leaders who is developing and leading the change, right, because you need that confidence of the process, you’re in the collaborative thinking to bring it forward. And sometimes that’s why it takes a little longer, because on the back end you want to get to the place, you know, bring in consultants, people like ourselves, you know, who work with labs of people and have an expertise about working with teams through change of do your own collaborative thinking within the organization and get to a place that you’re confident enough that you can hold some safety by guiding the team through the steps of the process and being able to reassure and reevaluate through that process. But holding that level of authority that you have within the change movement and continuing to revisit and keep that confidence is going to help all levels of the team that are impacted through that process. You know, and usually the change is happening while everything else is happening too, right? There’s still marketing, there’s still delivery, there’s all life is still happening. People are going on vacations while you’re moving through a big change. So that’s important.

Barbara: I guess I’m throwing in a little bit of the thoughts of how do we create more and more safety for one another in that process of change? I hear that you’re telling people to sort of advocate for how it’s going for them in their role, which is often eye opening for team members to think about, because they really are, like you said, like, you know, assuming maybe that people know, they know what’s delegated to me and they know what’s projects, they know what they’re checking up on me about, right? So they know, they know what’s on my plate. They know how it’s going. But the fact of the matter is, just like anywhere else in life, assumptions don’t work and the team members really do have to be the ones to advocate and share what’s going on, what’s on their plate, if there’s a better way to use them or their expertise.

Heather: And I’ve been having these situations recently, Barbara, in coaching, where I have to help leaders recognize that just because you have this job title and you know your resume and the expertise that goes into that, do not assume that other people in the company really know what that expertise entails because they don’t know, say, your specialty and they are not thinking of everything it entails. So in a way that creates a gap, like go ahead and paint the picture of, you know, I actually do have expertise in this area. This is something I did in a previous role, and now it’s seeming like something I could help this organization with. Don’t assume because people aren’t asking that they should know because it’s clearly communicated in your resume or your role title or something, because they just don’t. And in general, I think if we do more communicating about how it’s really going right now in my role and what’s the best use of me then will be actually serving the overall success in the business. And that’s the part that people should have more confidence in.

Barbara: And you know, what comes to my mind is, is that very important process of performing coaching plans. And that is a place if, you know, we highly recommend that teams that only get role clarity and higher will on board and train and get people in those clear roles. We’ll work on the team organization for how we communicate, how we report throughout whether it’s up or down or across within the organization from our roles. But then we also want people to be able to have a structured way that they can have that conversation you’re talking about. Certainly they can raise their hand to their supervisor or the next person that they report to. But we also want to create the structure within the organization to be watching that and communicating on a regular basis. One so we can recognize and appreciate and so that collaborative conversation can happen. And where you’re seeing certain things, I’m thinking of an example of another organization we work with. One of the people I’m coaching does the dashboards, and a lot of the dashboards are created by request, right, from different departments of the organization. And then he and his team are working on getting the data from the different ways and creating a presentation and seeing, you know, here’s the numbers that are coming. Here’s how you can work with these numbers where they come from and do this work. And, you know, they create an alliance while his team is doing that. They’re so deep in the data that sometimes they’re looking and saying, Oh, isn’t that interesting? Oh, and, and and, you know, up until recently, that was just in oh, while they were doing their role. And then now kind of what we’re talking about being like, huh? You know, I have some thoughts to share about something I’ve noticed. I wonder if, you know, you’d want us to track this and do some reporting. Here’s something we’re seeing while we’re working on these other pieces. And it’s been an advancement. You know, that role is a role that now is being invited to more meetings, being like, oh, wait a minute, that thinking and that stuff that’s happening while you’re doing this stuff is really important. Maybe we could have you at this level of a meeting. So it has advanced almost what you’re saying, how there is a way that somebody has knowledge, whether it’s internally seeing trends or numbers like in that case or a past experience, You know, I’ve done a project similar to this. Maybe it will be helpful if I can contribute in this planning or even in the execution of our new program. And here’s what I think I can contribute. You know, really making those presentations.

But I’ll kind of go back to, I think systems and processes and structures are so, so important. So not only examining how you do team meetings, but how are we going to keep staying informed of the experience of our team and our leaders and keep them developing along with the company, right to get the you know, our greatest asset as a business is our team. The business needs the team to be functioning and getting those outcomes. So that’s just a whole nother process to be sure that really, you know, role, clarity and developing in that role for clarity, clarity, clarity. As things change and grow, you want to retain your best talent, then you want to be working with them and having that was the same as when we talk about delegation being a two way street. You know, development and growth is really a two way conversation. It’s not waiting for others to notice an invite. It’s actually also bringing your thinking forward.

Heather: All right. Well, thank you. I think hopefully people are inspired to take out a piece of paper and see our pull out that once you’re right, I was thinking our overall message would be that whether you have a functional org chart or not, if you don’t, let’s get you crafting one. If you do, it’s not something you create and then put away. It’s a living document and we definitely want to communicate that. And in how Barbara shared the way it connects to so many other things within how the company operates and how the team develops for getting the best results, then we want you to know how important this functional org chart is as a living, breathing document and representation of how your team operates. If you don’t have a functional org chart. It’s a game changer. It definitely will. Right everything up and move you forward. It’s a needle mover for sure. So get those drafts out and let’s take a look at what’s happening in your business.







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