I Before C: Three Back To School Rules For Better Collaboration

As summer fades and the school routines resume, work inevitably heats up. Many organizations use the Fall for annual processes such as strategic planning and budgeting. It’s also the season for year-end sprints to complete projects that were optimistically scoped and launched back in the first quarter. Add in conferences and the usual run the business work, and everyone is stretched well beyond capacity.

During peak periods like these, the last thing an organization needs is decisions that come undone five minutes after they are made. Effective decision-making is essential to forward progress and moving fast when speed is of the essence. Many organizations rely on the good old RACI as a fundamental enabler of their decision-making and work processes. By way of a very quick refresher: RACI is an acronym that describes the four roles involved in a collaborative work effort:

  • R (Responsible) – the person or team who performs the work
  • A (Accountable) – the individual ultimately on the hook for the final product, be it a deliverable, decision, product, etc. The “A” may be one of the “R”s, but doesn’t need to be
  • C (Consulted) – people who have relevant subject matter expertise, interdependencies, or perspectives that should be considered
  • I (Informed) – people who are impacted by the work or need to know about it – but are not involved in it

A completed RACI establishes who is playing each of those roles. RACIs are great in theory. In practice, however, there are five reasons why they often fail to head off the very confusion, spin, redundancies, or gaps they were meant to prevent.

    1. They are treated as a “set it and forget it” exercise where they are developed – often in a painful fill in the box exercise – and then never referred to again
    2. They are at the wrong level of detail – they either become so granular as to lose the plot or too high-level to resolve the real points of contention
    3. They lack precision – entire organizations are listed under "C" for example, leaving the team unclear how to proceed. Are they to consult with absolutely everyone or a few representatives? If the latter, who has the ability and credibility to speak for the whole group
    4. They are overly inclusive –A well-intentioned desire to involve everyone leads to too many people in the “R” and “C” boxes
    5. Lack of shared taxonomy: People in the “C” box expect to have decision rights. People in the “A” box may micromanage or be too hands off – causing the team to lose morale or veer off course

As the days get shorter and mornings get crisper, we offer three back to school rules for making the RACI really work for you.

  1. I before C: When deciding between I and C, make I (Inform) your default. Then, selectively move people to the C box for very specific reasons. List individuals, not departments. Consider listing WHY individuals are consulted. For example: Sandra (will implement the decision we make); Barrett (has historical knowledge); Joya (has analytical insight into the data). If you consistently have too many people are in the C box, it usually signals a lack of trust within the organization. Consider addressing that directly, rather than perpetuating a culture of over-socialization and protracted processes.
  2. The A stands alone: The Accountable owner is the person with the authority and mandate to see that the work gets done. The most effective RACIs have a single name in that box. If there must be more than one (such as a steering committee), consider describing the governance model for decision making.
  3. Practice makes perfect: RACIs are most useful when applied in practice. Build a team habit of using the language regularly such as: “Let’s develop a communication plan for the Informs.” Or, “I’ll schedule a working session to debrief learnings from the C’s and decide how to integrate their insights into our final recommendation.” More importantly, build the muscle of using the RACI in difficult situations. For example: “Jackson, your team is an I on this project but have asked for the opportunity to weigh in. We’re under a tight timeline, can you please let them know we’ll brief them as soon as the decision is made?” or “Charlotte, you are the A on this deliverable, but haven’t prioritized our checkpoints. I want to make sure we’re on track. Can you please make time this week to meet with us?”

As backpacks replace boarding passes and textbooks supplant beach books, navigate the seasonal transition by sharpening the way your organization collaborates. And maybe, just maybe, you can hold on to some of the Summer peace of mind.

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