26th June 2023 | Written by

Navigating Role Ambiguity in Growing Companies

Let’s talk about role ambiguity, that mischievous troublemaker lurking in the shadows that loves to wreak havoc in growing companies. It’s like a dark cloud hanging over your team, causing confusion, slowing things down, and creating all sorts of inefficiencies. Not cool, right?

You know what I’m talking about. It’s that lack of clarity on who’s responsible for what, and what the heck everyone’s supposed to be doing. It’s like a puzzle missing a few crucial pieces, and it’s driving you nuts!

But guess what? You’re not alone in this struggle. In fact, I’m right there with you, grappling with role ambiguity as we speak. 

So, in this blog, I’m going to cover how role ambiguity messes with leaders and businesses, share my own battle with it (trust me, it’s fresh and ongoing), and most importantly, equip you with some tips and tricks to tackle ambiguity with your teams.


Understanding Role Ambiguity in Growing Organizations:

In a rapidly growing company, role ambiguity is almost inevitable. As teams expand and individuals’ roles evolve:

  • hidden responsibilities and changes emerge
  • new hires may be hesitant to challenge existing team dynamics or voice their concerns about additional tasks
  • managers may assign extra responsibilities to gauge the potential of new employees. 

It’s a slippery slope where everyday adjustments and unspoken changes gradually erode clarity, leading to role ambiguity. People shy away from having direct conversations or asking point-blank questions about who is responsible for what. We unintentionally let ambiguity thrive, fearing that addressing it might disrupt team dynamics or demotivate our colleagues. The result? A lot of things left unsaid and a lack of clear expectations.


The Consequences of Role Ambiguity:

Role ambiguity hampers progress and effectiveness within organizations. Without clear guidance, individuals may not know their highest-value activities, leading to a loss of focus and productivity. This lack of clarity can result in duplicated efforts, confusion, and frustration among team members. To thrive in a rapidly evolving business landscape, it is crucial to address role ambiguity proactively.


The Power of Methodically Destroying Ambiguity:

Destroying ambiguity in roles and responsibilities is essential for organizations to operate at their full potential. By methodically eliminating uncertainty, teams can create crystal-clear expectations, leading to increased efficiency and productivity. 


How I Struggled with Role Ambiguity Recently:

Despite having the knowledge, I still struggle with situations of role ambiguity. Doing this work is so uncomfortable. Here’s what happened recently in my leadership.

So, picture this—I’m running a business, or at least trying to. It all started with a simple TEDx Talk and a weekend workshop. Next thing I know, I’ve got a book, and before I know it, I’m knee-deep in the leadership training world. We had some ups and downs and wondered if we’d ever be a “real” business.

Fast forward a couple of years, and we find our groove. We’re helping leadership teams tackle Uncomfortable Work, Say No to the wrong things, and double down on the right ones. Our business is growing, and we’re adding new team members.

Now, here comes Elizabeth. She’s our head trainer, but she’s also got some limitations when it comes to travel. That leaves her with a lot of virtual bandwidth. So, being the eager beaver she is, she offers to help me in the sales process. I’m grateful for the assistance, and I toss her a vague request like, “Hey, can you help me with keeping up with the contacts in HubSpot for the sales process?”

Elizabeth, being the go-getter she is, says yes and assures me she’ll figure it out. Great, right? Well, not exactly. 

See, in my haste and overwhelmed state, I didn’t provide clear direction on what exactly I wanted her to do. And Elizabeth, being so eager to please, didn’t ask enough questions to truly understand the scope of the task.

Now we find ourselves in a sticky situation. We both feel like we own the follow-up in the sales process, but neither of us is clear on our highest value activity in that role.

We’re both swimming in a sea of ambiguity, and it’s drowning our productivity.

Then, one day, we decide to have a heart-to-heart. Elizabeth tells me, “We have to decide if you own this or I own this. Because I don’t think you should own it.” And you know what? I didn’t want to own it either. That conversation destroyed the ambiguity surrounding our roles.

Suddenly, the problem we needed to solve became crystal clear. Elizabeth took the driver’s seat, and we started making progress like never before.

In just a three-hour session, we accomplished more than we had in the entire previous month. It was a wake-up call.

Looking back, I realize that Elizabeth and I represent the two main reasons role ambiguity happens. I was moving too fast, and not taking the time to create clarity. And Elizabeth, eager to please, didn’t ask the tough questions.

But we’ve learned our lesson. We now understand the importance of methodically destroying ambiguity. It takes discipline, courage, and authenticity. Whenever something is unclear, we ask questions until it’s as clear as day.

So, my fellow leaders out there, let’s make sure our teams are crystal clear on their responsibilities and expectations. 

Leadership 101 covers the basics—job descriptions, clear expectations, and regular check-ins. But to truly excel, we need to embrace advanced leadership. We need to methodically destroy ambiguity in every aspect of our work.

Beyond Leadership 101: 6 Tips for methodically destroying role ambiguity

  1. Ask all the questions: Methodically destroy ambiguity by asking questions until everyone involved has a 100% understanding of their responsibilities and ownership.
  2. Practice Rigorous Authenticity: Recognize and acknowledge ambiguity. Embrace the discomfort of clarifying roles and responsibilities for the benefit of the team and organization.
  3. Surrender The Outcome: Overcome the fear of how others may perceive your efforts to destroy ambiguity. Focus on the greater goal of achieving clarity and improved efficiency.
  4. Do the Uncomfortable Work: Consistently challenge role ambiguity, even when it requires difficult conversations or conflict resolution.
  5. Cultivate Awareness: Foster awareness of role ambiguity’s impact, the cost of ambiguity, and the potential value of solving it.
  6. Accountability and Support: Encourage individuals to hold themselves and others accountable for destroying ambiguity. Create a culture where the entire team is committed to clarity and understanding.

Role ambiguity poses a significant challenge in growing organizations, hindering progress and impeding the realization of individual and team potential. However, by methodically destroying ambiguity through clarity, communication, and accountability, leaders can unlock the true capabilities of their teams. Embracing the discomfort and consistently addressing role ambiguity fosters an environment where individuals can thrive, leading to more successful and efficient organizations.

It won’t always be easy or comfortable. We might have irrational fears holding us back or lack awareness of the cost of ambiguity. But if we can create a culture where destroying ambiguity is the norm, where everyone is held accountable, imagine the possibilities.

So, here’s to a world without role ambiguity, where teams thrive, and organizations reach new heights. Let’s embrace clarity and unleash our full potential.

Have questions about how to implement this in your organization? Reach out to us here.