Roles and Responsibilities

In this exercise, you'll define roles and responsibilities, and clarify your interactions so the whole team can shine. Don't miss the example interaction map in step 5!


Step outside your work brain a moment and think about athletic teams. In some sports it's obvious what each team member's job is: on a track and field team, the shot-putters job is to be awesome at shot-put; on a baseball team, each player's role is discernible by virtue of whether they stand at the pitcher's mound, first base, center field, etc.

Now picture a basketball game. To the untrained eye, it's a bunch of people dribbling, passing, and shooting with no clear rules for who does what. But you better believe those players know exactly what their jobs are. Without roles that are clearly defined and understood, each game would dissolve into chaos and their performance would drop through the highly-polished floor.

So it goes with teams at work.

This play helps teams understand each other's roles and develop a deeper empathy for what each team member needs to do their job. It's especially effective for newly-formed teams, large multi-disciplinary teams, teams working on long-term and/or complex projects, and geographically distributed teams.

Invest a couple hours in this area and you'll probably work more efficiently in the long run – fewer dropped balls, less duplicated effort.


Bring the whole team in for this one – whether a 4-person special project team, or a 40-person cross-functional product team.

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All team members

Prep time

15 min


90 min




Running the play

Defining roles and responsibilities helps move your team from "storming" to "norming", or help "performing" teams who've lost their way get back on track.

  • Whiteboard or butcher's paper
  • Markers
  • Roles and Responsibilities worksheet (see above)
  • Timer
  • Rubber chicken

Download the Roles & Responsibilities worksheet, and print out two copies for each person in the group. 



Set the stage (5 min)

This is a long workshop. Some snacks and caffeine wouldn't go amiss.

The goal is two-fold: to better understand what roles exist on the team (either officially or unofficially), and to see how responsibilities could be re-shaped a bit, or ways existing roles can interact better. Ultimately, your task is to help yourselves operate more efficiently as a team.


Form a team and do a project kick-off first. If you're still not gelling as a team, try this play.


Define your own roles (15 min)

Give two copies of the Roles and Responsibilities worksheet (download it above) to each person, and answer these questions:

  • What is your role?
  • What are 2-3 important tasks you work on, or ways you help the team?
  • What resources and/or support do you need that you are currently receiving?
  • What resources and/or support do you need that you aren't receiving?
  • What's getting in your way?

Group people with similar skills or roles and have them fill out the worksheet together to save time.


Define somebody else's role (10 min)

Now for a bit of role-playing. Pick another person on the team and attempt to define their role using the same set of questions (do this on the second copy of your Roles and Responsibilities worksheet). The facilitator should make sure all people or roles on the team are covered.


Compare notes (25 min)

Have each team member share what they wrote for their role and the role they selected.

Remember that this is as much a listening exercise as it is a sharing exercise. It may take a long time, but the benefits are tangible as people have an opportunity to tell the team exactly what their responsibilities are, and what may be preventing them from doing a truly awesome job.

By now you should have a deeper empathy for your teammates. But before you go sing Kumbaya down by the campfire, pause for some visualisation and problem-solving in the next two steps...


If your company's idea of teamwork is (frankly) bullsh*t, here are a few other ways to help fix it.


Create an interaction map (20 min)

On the whiteboard or butcher's paper, in groups of 2-4 draw circles representing each distinct role on your team and label them. Leave plenty of space between the circles – you're gonna add a lot more information before the end of the workshop.

Based on what you just heard, annotate each role with their most important deliverables, objectives, or skills.

Now connect the circles with arrows representing the interactions between roles and support they need. Label all connecting lines. The arrow should start from the role producing something and point to the role(s) who relies on it. Draw an extra-thick arrow or use a special color to indicate the most critical interactions.


Here's an interaction map made by our customer support and advocates teams. 


Identify pain points and remedies (20 min)

Here it is, ladies and gentlemen: the moment you've been waiting for. Time to channel that new-found empathy into helping your team work better together.

Call out painful points in the way roles interact, and write them along side the arrows. Then have team members come up and place dots by the three pain points they're most keen to resolve.

In addition to pain points, look for gaps in capabilities and areas where only one person is able to take responsibility. Brainstorm ways to fill those gaps and maybe even get a bit of redundancy. When you're under the gun, you'll be glad you have every skill covered.

As a group, brainstorm ways you could ease the pain. For service teams, the flow of interactions may be strictly defined and adhered to. But project teams are different – the way they interact needs to be flexible so they can adapt to different situations and Get $#!τ Done™.

Prioritise three ideas to try out, with an eye toward the thickest interaction lines and the highest concentrations of dots. Break your top three ideas into bite-sized tasks, and agree on owners and due dates for each.


After the session, your team grinds to a halt.

Careful not to define roles and responsibilities with such specificity that the team can no longer operate normally. (Service teams are especially susceptible to this.) Instead of identifying ultra-granular situations, tasks, and procedures, identify areas of responsibility and escalation paths.

Not ready yet?

If your company's idea of teamwork is bullsh*t, we've got some ideas that might help.

Learn more



Leadership team members typically have very clear areas of responsibility that combine to cover a much broader territory. So think about how you can take advantage of less-obvious, non-core skills. The design lead might have their finger on the pulse of industry trends. The customer support manager may be an ace strategic thinker, and so on.


If this exercise resonates strongly with the team, consider getting someone with design flare to redraw the roles and interactions map. Print it in large format and hang it in your team's area. It can also serve as an important artifact in your Project Poster.

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