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Support Your Team: Define The Relationship and Improve Communication

Support Your Team: Define The Relationship and Improve Communication

by Hank Bohanon

Photo by fauxels on

The Problem

Most organizations try to accomplish important goals with the support of a team. The saying goes, many hands make light work. While this is a true statement, organizing those hands to accomplish an important goal can be challenging.

Having team members who are not clear on their roles, responsibilities, time commitments, and communication strategies can lead to frustration and hard feelings.

A team leader may expect that a member of their group understands their role or has the time to carry out the task. However, the team member may not share this understanding. Team leaders and members become frustrated in these situations, and delegation of tasks may stop. This lack of alignment does not have to occur, just because tasks are distributed to a group. Sometimes, we simply need to define the relationship.

I have been both a team member and leader who was not clear on my role and responsibilities. Through our research and practice, we have found at least two strategies that can help clarify expectations and communication processes teams need to accomplish tasks.

These strategies include: defining team roles and improving communication.

Defining Team Roles: Here is how to do it…

  • Review your organizational chart if you have one: Your organization chart helps you identify the key members of your team. These are examples of organizational charts from secondary schools implementing multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS)
  • Name the role: Identify the title or name of the position (or subgroup) from your team.
  • Identify key tasks: List the most critical steps the person (or people) needs to carry out in this role.
  • Estimate the amount of time required: Determine how many hours per week or month are necessary to complete the tasks identified.
  • Include sub-committees or teams: If you have sub-committees on your organizational chart, include them in your table.
  • Look for patterns in names: Sometimes, we color-code individual names to see who is assigned to multiple roles. If you see the same individuals on numerous rows on the chart, you might need to think about expanding your leadership pool.

Below you will find a short five-minute video you can use to walk teams through the process of defining their roles.

Link to a short video overview of defining team positions

Link to the PowerPoint from the video above.


Here is a school-level example from a team implementing a schoolwide approach for MTSS. This includes an example with roles for a district team implementing MTSS.

If you codify the roles of your team, you will find the members will have a better understanding of their role, and how much time they need to support their tasks.


Take a moment to consider a role for which you currently serve. Using this blank version complete one row of the planning document including the title of your position, responsibilities, and the number of hours per week/month you need to complete carry out this role.

By codifying your team’s role, you will:

  • Have a record of your team members’ current efforts
  • Know what your specific team members are responsible for carrying out
  • Be able to talk about what can come off a team members’ non-essential task list
  • Support a smoother transition between current and new teammates

Without a written document of your tasks, you may experience:

  • Drifts in roles and responsibilities
  • Difficulty in knowing how much time team members need to carry out a task
  • Frustration when transiting from one team member to another. This frustration may be particularly acute when all of the knowledge “lives in the head” of the person you are replacing.

Once you have a handle on your team composition, the next step is to help the team members communicate effectively.

The Problem

Most people are trying to accomplish goals that are important to them, their group, and their organization. Sometimes we take actions that can unintentionally make others feel left out or uninformed. We take steps with the group’s good in mind, but forget to bring others along with us. Failing to communicate can lead to hard feelings and setbacks in carrying out your important work. Many of the actions we’re trying to take would not be a problem if we communicated about them effectively with others.

Image of Cairo, IL (link)

I understand. I’ve moved forward with well-intentioned ideas, only to find out others saw my actions as trying to move on without their support.

We’ve looked at ways to try to prevent this communication problem. And with the help of researchers Bowmen and Deal and Marla Israel, the Director of Student Learning at Stevenson High School, we think we might have found a better way.

The CAIRO Process

The process that we’ll talk about is called CAIRO. Cairo is the capital of Egypt and the name of a town in southern Illinois (pronounced Kayrow I believe). CAIRO is also a communication process. Here are the components:

Consulted: Who needs to be consulted? For whatever action step you have, who’s advice do you need? Who can provide helpful information before you move forward with your plan?

Approve: Who needs to approve that particular action? Who can free up resources to your help your task move forward?

Informed: Who needs to be informed about the task? They don’t need to be consulted or approve the action step, but they need to know about it.

Responsible:  Who is responsible for carrying out the task?

Out of the Loop: Who doesn’t need one more email in their inbox?

You can use this process with corporations, high school schools, districts, or universities.

Training on CAIRO

This five-minute video will guide you through a process for reflecting on places where you have struggled with communication. It will also provide you with the opportunity to develop a plan to address some of the problems you may have found. You can use this video on your own, as part of professional development, or as coaching support for a team.

Link to Training Video

Link to the Powerpoint from the video above.


Here is a sample CAIRO planning from a high school.

Here is a blank version for your use.

Additional Information

For more information about leadership teams (chapter seven) and effective team communication (chapter fifteen) see our new book: Implementing Systematic Interventions A Guide for Secondary Teams.

You also can see Bohman and Deal’s book Reframing the Path to School Leadership (link): A Guide for Teachers and Principals, the source where we initially learned about CAIRO.

Thanks to Marla Israel for teaching us about this process in our early research on high school positive behavior support.

Image of team members with hands in the center of a circle – Photo by fauxels on

By using CAIRO, you can avoid issues such as miscommunication or a lack of communication. If you do not consider how you communicate your action steps, you may find yourself in a negative feedback loop. This issue is frustrating for you, your team, and your community. With CAIRO, we hope you’ll find yourself moving from stepping on people’s toes with your planning to getting the feedback you need to support your work.

We would love to know your thoughts about defining team roles and CAIRO or any other process you use to support your community’s healthy communication processes. Please leave a comment below with your thoughts.

Hank Bohanon is a Professor at the Loyola University of Chicago. He focuses his research on multi-tiered systems of support and school improvement in secondary school settings. He is also the co-author of Implementing Systematic Interventions A Guide for Secondary Teams published by Routledge Press. For more information see his website, or contact him by email ([email protected])

About The Author

Hank Bohanon

Dr. Hank Bohanon has been a special education teacher in the Dallas Public Schools. He also has served a project coordinator at the University of Kansas for the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs research on positive behavior supports. He is a professor in School of Education at Loyola University of Chicago. There he founded and served as the director of the Center for School Evaluation, Intervention, and Training (CSEIT). He is a former member of the board of directors for the Association of Positive Behavior Support. His research includes three-tiered academic and behavior supports in urban and suburban settings. His current work focuses on supports for high school settings related to positive behavior support, response to intervention, social and emotional learning, and school mental health.

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