Management is a very broad discipline, and a subject that cannot be avoided by anyone engaged in business. It is one of the essentials that must be present if an organization hopes to achieve its goals.

One of the basic rules of management involves the recruitment, hiring, training and retaining of the right people as members of the organization. This involves looking into their qualifications, characteristics, potential contributions, and their strengths and weaknesses. But it is actually a much broader view, one that is not limited to just choosing the right people to match the right job. It also involves defining roles and responsibilities, because you cannot match a person to a job without knowing exactly what you are looking for.

178 - How to Define Roles, Responsibilities and Handovers

In this article, you’ll learn 1) why it’s important to clearly define roles and responsibilities in an organization, 2) how to define those roles and responsbilities, and 3) how to manage handovers if an employee leaves the company.


Why should you have clearly defined roles and responsibilities within the organization?

Think of a man who found out that he just won a tract of land in a lottery. The tract of land is located in an area he has never been to before, but it doesn’t matter, because he already knows what he is going to do with it. He’s going to build a house with his own hands and he will get started right away.

Immediately, he went to a hardware store and purchased the materials he would need to build a house. He knows exactly what type of house it will be and how it will look like in the end.

When he arrived at the area where his prized land is located – with all building materials in tow – he was surprised to find that it was no bigger than a parking space that can fit two automobiles.

In short, he immediately took action, deciding the materials without first making sure what the tract of land is actually ideal for.

That is somewhat similar to hiring people outright, without first knowing the type of people that you actually need.

Defining the roles and responsibilities of members in your organization is important for several reasons:

Hiring the right people for the job.

From the beginning, having clearly defined roles will enable management to identify the type of people they will need, so they can proceed to targeting and hiring the most qualified candidates for the job.

Improved collaboration between and among members and teams within the organization.

If each employee’s role and responsibilities are defined clearly, there are higher chances of collaboration and sharing of work becoming more successful. This also works clearly when you have different groups of people working together. It is not enough that you have clearly defined the roles and responsibilities of each group; you should also make sure that their individual roles are just as definite, since it makes for better teamwork if each employee is aware of what they are bringing to the table and what is expected of them. This will also reduce the possibilities of misunderstandings and disputes, especially those that are related to authority.

Development of strong teams.

Teamwork is one of the vital ingredients in organizational success, and strong teams are composed of individuals who know what they are supposed to do, and what they are responsible for. If management is able to communicate to its teams and team members their responsibility and accountability properly, then they will have stronger teamwork, leading to higher productivity and better results.

Improved overall effectiveness and efficiency.

All the above will result in higher efficiency and effectiveness in how the business is run. Finding a good fit or match between jobs and people will lessen and even eliminate errors and mistakes, and improve quality of work. There will be lesser instances of delays and backlogs brought about by misunderstanding when it comes to roles of employees, and they will have a strong sense of responsibility towards their job and the organization.

Redundancies are also avoided, and job distribution will be improved. For example, they might discover that one person is currently doing the work of three people, while three people are doing practically the same thing. In the long run, these could result in cost savings for the organization and a more efficient use of its resources.

In the end, it all boils down to one thing: defining the roles and responsibilities will aid the organization or business in becoming successful and ultimately attaining all its goals.


To start with, there are three things that every member of an organization must be clear about: their superiors or the person they have to report to, their responsibilities and corresponding expectations, and the level of authority they require in order to make decisions. For this discussion, we will be focusing on how to define the second item: their responsibilities and roles.

A role is not a responsibility, and vice versa. Many people mistake a role as the job title, but there is more to it than just a designation. The whole business management process is comprised of different roles. It is possible for two or more people to have one or the same role, depending on what they do. There are roles that are solely focused on the administrative side of things, while others are more on the technical side. Some of the most common roles you will find in a typical organizational or business setup include the Owner, a Business Leader, an IT business leader, a Business Analyst, an IT analyst, and the like.

These roles then come with corresponding responsibilities, or the specific results that are expected from these roles. One simple way of stating this is that roles are the general terms, and the responsibilities are the specifics.

Management is responsible for defining the roles and responsibilities within the organization. In some cases, they form teams or committees tasked to do it. They can go about it through various ways, using several tools, depending primarily on the type and nature of the business or the operations of the organization, as well as the goals, but here are some of the common activities undertaken in the process.

Look at what you have, and what you need. The first thing that management should do is conduct an organizational audit. One simple way of doing this is to make a list of all the existing staff or employees of the company. Next, create another list, this time enumerating the roles and tasks that are performed in the business operations. Another useful tool is a rough organizational chart, which is useful in analyzing how the different departments or divisions of the organization are connected or interrelated. Now take a look at the current state of affairs in your organizational chart. What else do you need that are not there? What functions are lacking, and in what departments? This will allow you to include positions that you did not have previously but now you realize you need, while removing those that your processes or operations no longer really require.

Pay attention to the position description of each position in your organization. Think of the position description as your guide or map, for both the management and the employee to know the direction that they will be taking in their attempt to attain the goals of the organization. The components that must be present in the position description include the following:

  • Job Description. More than just an official job title or designation, this sums up the tasks, functions and responsibilities of the employee who will be holding this position.
  • Tasks or functions. These refer to the specific activities or work that the employee will perform.
  • Roles or Responsibilities. Each position is associated with sets of responsibilities. This answers the question on what are the expected results associated with the job of the one in the position.
  • These lists down the skills, capabilities and capacity that are required to perform the functions and fulfill the roles and responsibilities of the job.
  • Experience and educational requirement. The position may also require a certain degree of background experience or possession of knowledge in a specific field. These must also be set out clearly in the position description.
  • Performance Management and Indicators. It is also important to define how the employee in that position will be evaluated with respect to his or her performance. What are the metrics to be used? What are the performance targets? What actions will be taken if they exceed, meet, or fail to meet these targets?

Prepare a final organizational chart. Once the roles and responsibilities of each member of the organization has been clearly defined, it is a good idea to create a final organizational chart, which will also define the relationships between and among all the departments, teams and individuals within the organization. Simply by looking at the chart, the employees will know who they should report to, and with whom they are expected to work or collaborate with.

Get the cooperation and approval of management, or those at the executive level. This is especially important if the organization assigned the task of defining roles and responsibilities to people who are not at the executive level. They should be agreeable to the methods you used in assessing the current organizational structure, and your proposed changes, if any.

Communicate the roles and responsibilities to the employees. There is no point in defining the roles and responsibilities if the employees are not made aware of them. Each employee should be clearly made aware of what is expected of him or her. This can be done through various communication methods, such as direct conversations with the concerned employees, group workshops and trainings and other similar activities.


There is another aspect of this subject that is often overlooked: in cases of handovers. Often, problems are encountered when tasks are handed over from one person to another, or from one team to the next. When the handover is done improperly or with problems, friction frequently results, and efficiency and effectiveness of everyone involved will be greatly affected.

Turnovers are inevitable in an organization. You cannot expect one person to be staying in one position forever, performing tasks and functions for a very long time. They grow old, they retire, they move up in the organization, or they seek greener pasture elsewhere. One of the most common problems encountered in these cases is the transition, particularly with the handover of tasks and responsibilities. Another person will take over the position and the role, along with its responsibilities and accountabilities.

Now the problem often encountered is improper handover of projects or responsibilities. The person who used to be in charge may have left too suddenly, so there was not enough time to properly turn everything over to the “new guy”. There may not have been even a transition period where the person coming in is allowed to learn the ropes or familiarize himself with the responsibilities of the previous person.

There is a domino effect of this event happening. Team dynamics will certainly be affected, and so will the flow of work. Delays are probable, and productivity will be reduced or adversely affected. Therefore, it is also important to handle these handovers properly.

The following measures will help ensure a smooth handing over for all parties involved. The persons handing over their roles and responsibilities should ensure that they:

  1. List down all the activities, projects and tasks that are currently being worked on, and will have to be handed over. List them down in order of priority, from the most important to the least important. They should contain all the relevant details; for example, if they are time-bound projects, include the deadlines, progress of work so far, the budget, and the people involved, whether directly or indirectly, in its implementation. Other details that must be included are:
    • The positions and names of co-workers that you interact with in the process of carrying out your tasks
    • The names of other individuals and entities outside the organization you interact with in carrying out your tasks
    • The chain of command that the person you are giving the handover to will also be under once the handover is completed
  2. Coordination must be between the person handing over the responsibilities, the team leader or immediate supervisor, and the person who will be receiving the handover. You will all have to agree on a time that is most convenient for the one doing the handover and the one receiving the responsibility.
  3. During the actual agreed upon handover, make it as detailed as you can. If you are unable to complete all the current and pending activities and projects, make sure to inform the handover recipient about them. Give all the necessary details so they can pick up from where you left off and finish the activities themselves.
  4. All important details and updates regarding the handover must be furnished to the supervisor or team leader. Never keep him out of the loop.
  5. Document everything. This is so you won’t miss anything and everything will be on record. It will also be good support or backup for the handover report you will be preparing later on.
  6. Complete your handover report and submit to the supervisor. Included in the handover are the following:
    • A summary of tasks, duties and responsibilities. In some cases, they make do with a simple list, supported by an attached copy of the position description;
    • The identity of the recipient of the handover, or who will be taking over the tasks, duties and responsibilities;
    • The timeline of handover, from the time it started until it was completed, and how it was carried out;
    • Activities that were completed during the handover, and those that are left incomplete;
    • Any notes or special points of interest that might help the next person in carrying out the tasks and responsibilities handed over to him; and
    • Any other special points that the supervisor should know about the handover.

Handovers will only be successful, seamless and smooth if there are clearly defined roles and responsibilities in the organization to begin with. Your people are already aware of what their roles are, so even when they have to do handovers, they know exactly what they should do, and even understand the impact of doing (or not doing) it properly.

Some disruption is bound to take place whenever there is a turnover or a change in the people of the organization, but what management can do is to minimize the negative effects of these disruptions. By clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of the members of the organization, handovers will be easier to conduct, and the handovers, in turn, will not compromise the processes of the company.

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