I know I shouldn’t tell you this but I have to tell someone. I hope you can keep a secret. Because if this gets out, life as we know it might never be the same. Cats will start barking and dogs may start to “meow.” I am really not sure I should even tell you. What if you turn away from The Force and turn to the Dark Side? What if terrorists kidnap you and torture you in order to get to this secret?

Okay, so maybe I am being a bit melodramatic. This is not exactly a trade secret like with the formula for Coca Cola. My secret is just a roles and responsibilities alignment approach for organizations, projects and teams that has produced great results for clients over the last 15 years. The real “secret” here is not the process since there are probably about 10 versions of the process I utilize depending on the client’s need. The real opportunity (the secret) is being able to have productive conversations, with all the stakeholders in the room, about the gaps and overlaps in roles as well as the business issues as a result of those alignment challenges. I know you’re probably thinking, “That’s it? That’s the big secret?”

I realize there may not be a lot of sizzle to this secret but there is a lot of meat. The secret to alignment is not in the production or approval of a roles and responsibilities document. It is in the alignment conversation about the documents. Having a productive alignment conversation is an art – and it’s a great skill for a team/organization to collectively learn. The secret is really about open dialogue and the space to have the conversations that need to occur around roles and responsibilities issues.

Roles and responsibilities alignment is about conversation that clarifies responsibilities and the related action to deal with the following:

· Gaps in roles – no role is responsible for. . . .

· Overlaps in roles – more than one role is responsible for. . . .

· Interdependencies and handoffs – how do roles coordinate the handoffs, collaboration and coordination?

· Business risks – the potential impact to the goal, deliverable or project if the alignment issue is not resolved

The following are summaries of just a few roles and responsibilities alignment projects I have facilitated and how the conversation process improved alignment and/or business results:

Offshore Platform Turnaround

The planning session for the turnaround (platform was to be off line for maintenance and equipment upgrades) included 50 people from management, planning, welders, construction, safety, etc. The Turnaround was planned for 35 days and production would be shut down during the Turnaround. For each lost production day, revenue of $2 million per day would be lost. With approximately 20 functions from multiple organizations, the roles and responsibilities conversation was really about communication/coordination between functions, highlighting specific areas of interdependency that could make or break the Turnaround. The Turnaround was completed in 28 days, 7 days ahead of schedule, reducing the impact of lost production by $14 million vs. the plan.

Onboarding New Leadership Team Members

This $150 million company provides solutions to processing plants. The company’s leadership team had been recently reconstituted with new members because of departures and retirements of about half the team. Part of the objective of the session was to gain a common understanding of what each role/function would be responsible for, considering that the new members were not previously part of the leadership team. But as usual, the productive conversation yielded some key issues that the team has to align around. In this case, part of managing the solutions and related projects for customers was an opportunity to offer training to customers to make the solutions more sustainable (and profitable). The discussion resulted in a clear role assignment to one member of the team to be accountable for design, delivery and marketing of this new offering.

Major Project for a Refinery

This project team for a $500 million refinery project had a challenge. The company needed this project to be successful and the project team needed to deliver on commitments for schedule, cost, operability and safety metrics. The project team consisted of approximately 10 functions – project management, engineering, construction, environmental/safety, procurement, materials management, information management, scheduling/reporting, quality assurance and operations/commissioning. There were several alignment sessions at different stages of the 3 years I was involved with this project. In one session with 30 to 40 people from both the company and the contractor, the conversations led to some meaty alignment issues such as the accountabilities of Construction vs. Operations during the Construction phase, the stakeholders/contractors that needed to be involved in the Commissioning/Startup plan, trust issues between the contractor and owner safety representatives, etc. The project executive made a statement at the end of the session, “I am confident we saved $10 million in this meeting” (I guess I should have charged more…). I don’t think he did any complicated calculations to arrive at that number. However, his instincts were telling him how significant the cost of misalignment could be, how likely the negative impact would be if the misalignment wasn’t dealt with, and how the conversation as well as the related actions were a big step in reducing that cost.

Human Resources Function

As part of company-wide employee survey of this international oil and gas company, the Vice President of Human Resources engaged me to explore the survey results with a facilitation of brainstorming sessions -- to better understand, from the 35 HR staff members, their thinking behind those ratings. The staff strongly believed that HR roles and responsibilities needed clarification as there were issues around distribution of workload, clear lines of authority, interfaces issues between functions, etc. A small coordination team was chartered to have the roles and responsibilities documents prepared and then I facilitated the function-wide meeting to review the documents and identify gaps, overlaps and other alignment issues. The conversation yielded role clarification issues such as who owns the candidate throughout the recruiting lifecycle and unclear lines of authority between the business unit’s petro-technical recruiting liaison and HR. Also, a lot of great improvement ideas surfaced in the alignment meeting conversation such as improving the communication process when new HR initiatives/processes are introduced into the organization – both within HR and to the internal clients of HR.

Dealing With Possible Obstacles to a Productive Alignment Conversation

My biggest fear going into a roles and responsibilities alignment session will be overhearing participants after the session making comments such as:

· “That was a waste of time. We never talked about the issues that mattered the most”

· “We talked about the big issues but nothing is going to change”

· “I didn’t say much because I didn’t like where it was going. They’re the ones that are in charge.”

· “They made a decision as to what we should do. I doubt it’s going to work.”

Although alignment conversations have to be natural and not forced, they also need the right structure and space. The following are recommendations to make these alignment discussions more productive:

· Clarify deliverables from the alignment session as well as next steps after the session

· Lead participants to trust in the value of conversation and what it will lead to

· Expect participants to discuss openly the alignment issues/concerns and the risks of misalignment to the business deliverables/results

· Make the dialogue an objective conversation about the business or role issues. Avoid defensiveness and taking feedback personally

· Interrupt rabbit trail discussions or war stories that hijack the conversation

                                                 *   *   *

So don’t think of Roles and Responsibilities Alignment as a job description exercise. Think of it as a teamwork activity -- a way to UNITE as a team around your Game Plan to achieve your goal, deliverable, project or metrics. Everyone on the team has a job to do – the question is whether we are all on the same page as to what is expected of each team member. Then we can and be collectively accountable to DELIVER what we promise. I could reveal how you might check out TeamScene®, the Teamwork Competency Model, so you could learn more about Making Teamwork ProfitableTM. But then I might get a reputation for not being able to keep another secret.

Mike Goodfriend is a teamwork engineer, executive coach, and meeting facilitator. Since 1989, Goodfriend & Associates has been helping leaders and leadership teams increase their strategic advantage through achieving higher levels of competitive advantage, teamwork/alignment, leadership competency and excellence/customer satisfaction. Mike Goodfriend can be reached at 713-789-6840 or via email at mikeg@goodfriendconsulting.com.

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