Spotting stress and bottlenecks in your team with RACI

RACI is a well-established tool for clarifying roles across a set of tasks undertaken by a team. RACI stands for Responsible, AccountableConsulted and Informed. The idea is simple: create a table (in excel, on a whiteboard, on a piece of paper), with a row for each objective, and a column for each team-member. For each objective, identify whether the team-member is Responsible (carries out the task), Accountable (gets fired if it screws up), Consulted (gets to chip in before key decisions are taken) or Informed (is kept in the loop).

Teams will often trip themselves up when these things haven’t been clarified – decisions are overturned; too many or two few people are trying to actually do the work; no one person is worrying if the task is going off-track – so being able to have a structured conversation to bring this clarity is extremely helpful. But beyond bringing clarity for specific tasks, this matrix can also be used to spot and then avoid some dysfunctional behaviour.

Let’s take the example of the leadership team of a small software company which is trying to launch a subscription version of one of their existing products in Q4. Their head of marketing quit earlier in the summer so they’re trying to recruit a successor, and they’re also trying to assess pay and benefits for everyone in the company ahead of the usual January salary reviews. The cash position for the business is quite tight. The CEO wants to ensure that things are perfect so wants to sign off on all of the decisions; because of the finances, the CFO wants to ensure that costs are tightly controlled. So the RACI matrix might look something like this:

By sketching this out, we can spot a number of problems:

The CEO and the VP Product are very heavily burdened. The CEO has to get their head into everything that’s going on, so they can sign off with confidence. The VP Product is doing a big chunk of the work on four out of six tasks – as a consequence, if any one of those tasks goes wrong, they’re going to have to sacrifice some time or attention on the other three. These two are working very long days, and over time run the risk of burning out.

The CFO is in meeting and inbox hell. They’re the lead on the annual pay review – but on top of that, all of the decisions on all of the other tasks are going to have to be run past them before the tasks can proceed. Oh, by the way, everyone wants to have a say in who gets to be appointed to the VP marketing job, but nobody’s actually going to do the work to recruit them.

Although the scenario is made up, I’ve often seen RACI matrixes which look a bit like this, once the team has been asked to produce them. Scanning down the columns for each individual, too many As and Rs is over-work; too many Cs is bottleneck.

If this is your situation, there are a number of tactics you can use to reduce the risks.

Too many As? You control-freak. Although taking accountability is heroic, are you really going to do a good job at it? Are you creating enough room for others on the team to step up and take some accountability? Are you giving people enough development opportunities? Find ways, even at first on just one task, to give someone else the accountability, and just stay either Consulted or even better, Informed. It’s liberating!

Too many Cs? You control-freak bottle-neck! Do you really need to be in all of those meetings, just to veto? Can you find ways of turning your decision-making rights into policy or constraints for the team – a set of guiderails for them to operate under? That way, you can reduce the amount of time you’re spending in meetings and allow others to act responsibly and accordingly, even if you’re not in the room.

Too many Rs? Something has to give – either at work, or at home. This is not good. The team needs to find creative ways to reassign or even delay some of the tasks.

And if you scan across the rows:

Too many Rs? That’s a lot of moving parts to coordinate. Think about ways of simplifying the activity of the task so fewer people are involved in getting it done.

More than one A? Really, who’s neck is on the block for the success of this task? If it’s two of you, maybe it’s neither of you.

Too many Cs? That’s some sloooooooow work. The effort will be 20% doing the thing, 80% getting buy-in.

Not enough Rs, or none at all? The task isn’t going to get done.

RACI matrices take 5 minutes to compile with a team, but can save you days, weeks or months of delays and task procrastination. Awesome teams get shit done quickly, efficiently, effectively. RACI’s a great tool to help. Try it.


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