Who's on First?

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

Abbott and Costello do their comedy skit in 1953 titled “Who’s on First”. This turns into a running joke on who is responsible for the positions on the baseball field resulting in confusion for the remainder of the joke. Now fast forward to today. You’re at work and everyone is working very hard running all over the place. It also seems like there is so much work, that everyone must share the load in order to get it all done. This is true to a point, but let’s break it down to better understand how this can work against us. Who is truly on First within your company and what is their responsibility?

When you find yourself in a similar situation of being busy all day and never really catching up, take a look at where your areas of ownership are. Consider the ranks and responsibilities within your organization. Your company may have multiple levels or categories, each with their specific responsibilities. But what happens when those responsibilities get lost and overlapped? Let's take a look at some example levels such as Supervisor, Coordinator, and Line Lead for the sake of distinction. When you’re in the environment of limited resources but still have to complete the same task, working together on similar tasks makes sense. But when these tasks overlap too much, what does that look like? Take the below Diagram A for example.

The Supervisor, Coordinator, and Line Lead all have their specific responsibilities within their areas of ownership. But in the above example, they are also overlapping in their tasks. When the responsibilities overlap past the required threshold, then the time involved in the task goes into negative return. This is where your efforts produce output less than the input. The required overlapping threshold will vary based off of your company's specific needs. Helping someone with their work is one thing, sacrificing your key duties as a result is something totally different. When we all focus on the same overlapped tasks, we either all do double work; or the task doesn’t get done, because we expect someone else to complete it.

Let’s get out of this loop, put on our Boss hat, and get it done right. The first point of resolution is to define what everyone’s responsibilities are – we’re talking about what each position needs to accomplish to make them successful at their specific role. Each role has an area of responsibility. This can be by territory, or by level of involvement. From our earlier examples, let’s look at each one. The Supervisor likely has limited hands-on involvement and monitors at a high level. This can involve achieving process targets, managing costs, schedule projections, time approvals, and sensitive HR people management. As we get closer to the front line, the Coordinators could be responsible for process room movements, KPIs per process, open/close of each process, and some people management as needed. Then the Line Leads are controlling the process times, run rates, daily paperwork, and direct people management. This can vary depending on your business model. The main point is to know what everyone is responsible for and identify where the overlaps are occurring. If the overlap is not needed, then you just found your likely cause for hectic running around and lowered results. In some cases, the running around can be the sign to increase your staffing. But for this article, we’re targeting the opportunity of overlapping responsibilities. Now, take the improved Diagram B below as we better define our responsibilities and limit our overlaps. Though this example shows a slight difference, its objective is to help with the visualization of the overlapping roles and their tasks.

There can be overlap, and often this is necessary for process understanding and periodic coverage. This overlap should only be “as needed”. When a task is not performed, the responsible person needs to be accounted for, and proper steps taken to prevent future errors. When we put ourselves in excessive overlap of responsibilities, then we cannot create solutions for our errors due to the limited connection of accountability and the ambiguity of the root cause.

Does this sound familiar from past experience or even your current situation? As situations present endless variety, so will the variety of their solutions. With that, this is not your End All for this fix, but a strong start to gain the momentum you need to start making change in the right direction.

Thanks for reading.

Rick V.


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