Role Mapping for Team Clarity

graphic facilitation team performance Sep 16, 2015

Author: Rachel Smith


Do you know, I mean really know, what your teammates do? Do you know how they produce information they give to you and what they do with information you give to them? Do you understand their roles to the point where you could fill in for them for a day?

The better you and your teammates understand each other’s roles, the more effective the team will be overall. Points of intersection, where people’s work either overlaps or provides inputs to other team members’ work, are where the team will feel the greatest impacts from clarifying roles.


Map Your Team’s Roles

Mapping the intersections of roles will give your team clearer insight into how to work together more effectively. The following is a process that I have found useful for this.

1. Choose a time when everyone can get together. Set aside at least an hour for an initial conversation. If your team is distributed, consider supporting the meeting with remote graphic recording or graphic facilitation to create the maps of team interactions.

2. Identify the places in which there are overlaps or shared inputs or outputs. What do you create that is then used by another team member? What do you use that other team members create? Make a list, and ask everyone on the team to make a list too. (This can be done as pre-work.)

3. Gather the team, compare lists, and rank the items to decide where to start. Look for items that appear on several lists, and start there for the biggest impact. Alternatively, select the most high-profile activities on the lists as a starting point.

4. Map what happens around each item on the combined list. Give team members who touch that item a chance to explain what they do and how they do it. What tools do they use? What information do they need to have handy when they start? What format do they prefer to work with? Allow everyone to describe his or her workflow and preferences without trying to problem-solve at this point. Just listen. It might help to draw a picture of the process on a whiteboard or large sheet of paper as it is described. Make notes of questions or issues as they come up.

5. Once everyone has spoken, have a conversation about the questions, concerns, and other issues that came up. You might find that something as simple as changing the way information is conveyed or presented will make a big difference to the recipient. Once you understand why someone wants it this way or that way, it’s often easier to modify your own workflow slightly to accommodate them. Use a flip chart to clearly record new agreements or procedures your team wants to try.

6. Repeat the process for each item on your combined list (this might take more than one meeting).

7. At the end of the meeting, review the flipchart of agreements and make sure everyone understands what he or she has personally agreed to do. Agree on an evaluation period—two to four weeks, perhaps—after which you will all reconvene to talk about whether the changes are helping, identify new issues that have come up, or discuss new ideas.


Remove the Obstacles in Your Team’s Workflow

This activity is particularly valuable for distributed teams in which members do not have a way to see directly what their co-workers do. For these teams, the way that inputs and outputs are created and delivered can make a huge difference in team effectiveness.

For example, it is common for someone to create a document and send it as a PDF, but if the recipient needs to extract information from the PDF to use elsewhere, this can be time-consuming. Something as simple as switching to a shared document editor or keeping the shared information in another system may result in a much smoother workflow.


Alternative Approaches

• Instead of making individual lists of overlapping tasks in Step 2, ask team members to work in pairs.

• Try writing each overlapping task on a separate large sticky note, then use a large board or sheet of paper to organize them. This method works especially well if you are mapping a workflow that many team members touch, because you can move the sticky notes around and annotate the space between them with notes, questions, and arrows.

• For distributed teams, consider using an online collaborative whiteboard/sticky note tool, such as Boardthing, Mural, Leankor, or Whibo.


The Wonders of Clarity

Arriving at clarity about your team’s roles will substantially improve the team’s ability to get its work done. Once you each understand more about the work your teammates do and how they do it, all team members can play their roles in ways that help each other be even more effective and make better use of everyone’s abilities.




This article is adapted from a previously published longer version on Rachel Smith’s blog.

For more on role clarification, see these resources:

1. Clarifying Team Roles by Workshop Exercises

2. Discussion of Roles and Responsibilities by Collaborative Justice

3. RACI Matrix (How-To) by Duncan Haughey, PMP, Project Smart

What challenges Are you facing?

Let’s talk.