“What is my role?” is such an interesting question to ask yourself. It's simple and extremely useful. Unfortunately, we don’t ask it enough. Here at BenchSci, we are driven by what will achieve the greatest impact for scientists and patients at all times and to do this we need to be focused. In this post, I’m going to explain more about the question's importance and why you should ask it daily during different activities. 

Currently, I work at BenchSci as SVP Engineering. I joined BenchSci when we were 10 team members and helped grow the engineering department from three engineers to over 60. As BenchSci scaled and changed from small and scrappy to larger with a need for better processes, we started facing common challenges like:

  1. Too many people in meetings
  2. Too many emails and Slack messages
  3. Too many stages in our interview processes

All are examples of important organizational problems to solve. And certainly, top-down solutions are warranted. But every individual can also help solve these problems on a daily basis by asking one simple question: “What should my role be in X—if any?”

Defining and aligning expectations

Just think of all the times throughout the day when you could ask this question. What is your role when joining a meeting? What is your role in an interview as part of the interview process? What is your role as part of a team reviewing a document? What is your role when reviewing someone else’s code? What is your role in a Slack channel?

As I reflected on the question “What is my role?” I found that the problem was about defining and aligning expectations of certain activities. A good example of how roles and expectations are defined properly is in project management. At the beginning of a project, the project manager will define a responsibility matrix (e.g. RACI— Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed). This makes it clear to everyone involved in the project what their role is.

I have been in many situations in the past where expectations were misaligned, such as someone asking me to review a document that was outside my expertise. Often, I would review what I could, add a few comments, and reply that I had completed reviewing the document. However, by doing that, I did not align on expectations with the person who asked me to review the document in the first place.

As such, the other person may have thought that just because I didn’t leave a comment on something, that meant that it was good. In hindsight, the more appropriate course of action would have been to respond letting them know that while I can review certain sections, for others it might be better to ask someone else who has more knowledge in that specific area.

Don't make assumptions

Communicating the right expectations is more crucial in today’s world than ever before. Many of us are working remotely, joining meetings virtually, and not meeting each other in person. This makes us assume more, and therefore increases the likelihood of errors and miscommunication. Not asking yourself “What should my role be in X—if any?” and aligning on expectations will lead to a huge waste of time for everyone involved, and will make others assume certain things that may be incorrect, leading to problems.

Improving is actually very simple. It involves overcommunicating your actions and saying what you’re going to do or not going to do. There are three steps that you’ll need to take:

  1. When you are asked to do something, be mindful and clarify, “What is my role in X?”
  2. If you don't feel you should have a role, then communicate that and explain why.
  3. If you do feel you should have a role, then set the right expectations of your role to ensure alignment and reduce assumptions.

It's a simple question, for sure. But if we don't take the time to answer it, the downstream effects can be significant. 

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Written By:
Asaf Inger (he/him)