How to be a more inclusive leader with RACI

by | Mar 18, 2019 | Blog | 0 comments

Do you regularly use a RACI chart, matrix or model in your teams? If not, you may want to start. Here’s why.

Whatever you call a RACI, it’s a simple and effective approach for achieving two team goals: keeping projects on track and acting inclusively with team members.

Project management is the RACI’s traditional intended goal. Yet, inclusion can also be an unanticipated yet highly desirable byproduct and outcome, based on what we know about the human brain.

Here’s how this works.

First, some background. RACI is basically a way to track assignments for roles and responsibilities. The acronym RACI commonly stands for responsible, accountable (or approver), consulted, and informed. These are the four key project roles and responsibilities.

When you create a RACI, you map out every task and key decision and then assign the roles for each. There will be doers; approvers; decision-makers; advisors (those who are consulted and weigh in with their expertise or for their perspective); and those who need to stay in the know. Some tasks and decisions will be singular roles; others will be multiple roles. (Here’s an example of what a RACI matrix looks like.)

While the origins of RACI are cloudy, its value is clear in the world of project management, Six Sigma, Lean and related fields. RACI has an enviable history for visibly identifying what roles and which people are involved in each project task, which helps eliminate confusion about who’s doing what and when.

Now let’s turn to RACI’s lesser known yet powerful job: Supporting enhanced levels of inclusion among project team members.

Inclusion is challenging for many team leaders and members because it’s easy to swerve between under-inclusion and over-inclusion. Both can adversely affect individual and team performance.

When individuals don’t feel like they’re actively being included, such as not being listened to, not involved in a process, not getting straight answers, or whatever, they feel excluded. That results in them experiencing social pain. This social pain is real and can hurt their ability to contribute. For more about this, check out my Forbes blog Why social pain hurts your workplace performance (and how to avoid it).

However, if as a team leader you bend over backwards and start to include everyone in everything, you create two other problems. First, individuals can start to feel overwhelmed, which taxes their cognitive capacity to think clearly and participate fully. (For more about this, see my blog post Two steps to NOT hate work.) Second, that cognitive fogginess can slow down the team’s ability to meet their deadlines.

When you introduce RACI into a team project, you set clear role expectations for everyone and then you articulate what’s expected of them. In effect, you’re reducing ambiguity.

“Ambiguity is the enemy of inclusion,” explains Dr. Heidi Grant, Chief Science Officer of the NeuroLeadership Institute. “Our brains are very sensitive to threat. In an ambiguous setting, we veer to feeling threatened.”

And when someone feels threatened, they don’t feel valued or respected or feel like they belong to the team and maybe even the organization. Their interest level can drop as well as their desire and ability to participate and perform. They may even become disengaged with the organization.

By contrast, when you’re able to clearly define each individual’s role and match their expectations for how they think they’re going to be included under the project’s parameters, you’re providing them a sense of certainty. For the brain, that’s a reward. The fog of confusion and ambiguity is lifted, and they know what they’re expected to do and they feel they belong.

From the perspective of the brain, here’s what’s important to note about inclusion, especially in relationship to team participation.

  • Inclusion affects everyone—regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, income, etc. As Mercedes Martin and I remind the leaders we’re working with, the human brain is hardwired for individuals to be social and want to feel seen, heard and connected.
  • Inclusion is not just something a team member feels every now and then; it’s an experience they live.
  • When you as a team leader think about inclusion, you need to consider not only your own experience, but especially the experience of those you’re leading and interacting with. Inclusion is about what’s happening in others’ brains too. They’re determining whether they’re experiencing inclusion.
  • Effective team leaders should view their role as managing how their team members experience social threats and rewards, Dr Grant advises.
  • If leaders want to support team members performing at their highest levels, leaders need to provide social rewards, such as ensuring team members feel like they’re valuable members of the group and providing them with a sense of certainty about their role and expected actions, which RACI provides.

RACI is just one of many tools leaders can use to provide social rewards. These rewards provide huge benefits for team members and team performance. If you’d like to know more, contact Mercedes or me.

Meanwhile, how about continuing—or starting—using RACI?


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