Using The RACI Matrix for Clarifying Decision Authority

Your company is overhauling its customer service management, and the first step is to purchase new CRM software. The sales, marketing, operations and customer service teams are all actively involved in managing customer relationships, so you’ve formed a committee of representatives from each department to research the options and make a recommendation to the executive leadership team.

Ultimately, every member of the team has a stake in finding the best solution, but what happens when your sales and marketing directors are at a standstill? Who should make the final call?

In our work with matrix-style organizations and cross-functional teams over the years, many have told us the same thing: The biggest challenge of this organizational structure is the uncertainty created by a lack of clarity about responsibilities and authority. This is particularly an issue when it comes to making decisions, an issue I shared in a recent interview with Smart Companies Radio host Kelly Scanlon.

Unlike a traditional hierarchy where it’s clear who is in charge, the lines are often blurred within a team representing different regions, departments or functions. Leaders may be accustomed to making decisions for their own department, but they aren’t used to sharing decision responsibility in a matrix team. One of the keys to working successfully in a matrix is clarifying decision authority.

There are a number of tools that can help your organization do this, including the RACI Matrix, which is a template to document how team members should be involved in decisions and who has the final go/no go authority. The RACI Matrix is a helpful way to frame this discussion and ensure no one is left out of the decision-making process.

  • Responsible: Who will be executing this task? This person or group is responsible for ensuring the decision or task is carried out successfully. In many cases, this will be the project manager. The Responsible person or group should identify who needs to be involved, communicate with them and influence others to attain the necessary help, resources and information needed to complete the task;
  • Accountable: Who has the authority to make the decision? Who will take the blame if something goes wrong? While the team may make suggestions and identify preferred options, the Accountable person or group ultimately decides whether the action or recommendation will move forward. The Responsible person or group needs to coordinate early and often with the Accountable person or group to ensure the project stays on track;
  • Consulted: Who can provide important information? Who are the key stakeholders whose support is needed for implementation? This person or group should be consulted in the early stages of the project to enhance decision quality and/or establish buy-in. The Responsible person or group should involve the people or group with a Consulting role prior to making a decision or taking action;
  • Informed: Whose work will be impacted by this decision? Who needs to be updated on the progress? Once the Accountable person or group has approved the decision, those who have the Informed role should be told what decision has been made so they can make the proper adjustments in their area.

Although the RACI Matrix can be a useful tool to help determine who needs to be involved and to what extent, many cross-functional teams are unable to realize its full benefits. Here are three tips for using the RACI Matrix well and making the time spent worthwhile.

1. Start Early

If you’ve ever been affected by a poor decision that could have been avoided if you had been consulted, you know how frustrating it can be. That’s why it’s essential to agree on roles and responsibilities from the beginning. Use the RACI Matrix and take the time to talk about how team members will work together, what cooperation will look like within this team and when it will be necessary before conflicts arise.

2. Prioritize

It’s often said that 80 percent of your results come from just 20 percent of your efforts, so it’s important to determine which 20 percent of your activities and decisions will be most impactful.

Whether your team is a permanent structure or a temporary committee, focus on the three to five key decisions and activities this cross-functional team will be responsible for and work out the roles and authority for those critical few. Don’t waste time trying to agree on roles and authority for decisions or actions that aren’t critical or are unlikely to occur.

3. Build Trust

Agreeing on roles and decision authority requires a high level of trust. Team members need to feel confident that others have credibility and will make the right decision for the team overall. Otherwise, they will never feel comfortable allowing someone else to have the final say about a decision that will affect them without being there to ensure it’s done right.

This trust takes time to develop, particularly within virtual teams. Here are a few tips for building trust:

  • Don’t exaggerate – answer direct questions with direct answers;
  • Listen – earn the right to make suggestions and offer your point of view;
  • Focus on the needs and goals of others – demonstrate that your attention and motives are not just driven by your own needs and goals;
  • If your team is virtual, meet face-to-face at least once as you begin working together. If this is not possible, try hosting a series of virtual meetings.

When teams take the time to clarify decision authority, they will reduce confusion and realize the biggest benefits of the matrix structure: Improved collaboration, more shared resources and ultimately, better decision quality.