Clarifying Responsibilities with MOCHA

Last updated: October 28, 2021
Estimated reading time: 8 min


MOCHA is a tool for establishing clear roles on projects. In most settings, projects involve contributions from multiple people. This is especially true in the progressive and education equity sectors where we strive to collaborate, build coalitions, and seek perspective from communities most impacted by the issues we work on.

Multiple people working together can generate greater participation, more equitable outcomes, and broader impact. And if we’re being honest, it can also lead to confusion. The MOCHA model clarifies who’s responsible for what and reduces the chance of hidden labor by spelling out each person’s contributions.

MOCHA stands for:

  • Manager: Supports and holds owner accountable through delegation. Serves as a resource, shares feedback, asks probing questions, reviews progress, and intervenes if the work is off-track. This person may or may not be the owner’s supervisor.
  • Owner: Has overall responsibility for driving the project forward and coordinating steps to accomplish the goal. Ensures all the work gets done (directly or with helpers) and involves others (consults) in a meaningful way. There should only be one owner.
  • Consulted: Provides input and perspective. May share resources or referrals.
  • Helper: Implements aspects of the work and actively contributes to project success. The helper may own a significant area of work with its own MOCHA (we call this a cascading MOCHA).
  • Approver: Signs off on the final product or key decisions. May be the owner or manager, though it can also be a person or group with a clear decision-making role on the project.

Imagine that your organization is about to host its annual fundraising dinner. Here’s what the MOCHA looks like:

  • You’re the owner, which means that you are responsible for making sure the dinner goes smoothly and you hit your fundraising goal for the event.
  • The manager in the MOCHA is a colleague with experience planning large events. They provide guidance and approve the overall plan.
  • Your helpers are the marketing assistant, events coordinator, and development manager. The development manager owns the fundraising pitch portion of the event. Your events coordinator handles program logistics including confirmations with speakers, performers, and audio/visual. The marketing assistant is responsible for tracking RSVPs, recruiting attendees, and sending reminders. When there are concerns about low RSVPs two weeks out, they’re empowered to problem-solve by making phone calls to shore up “maybes.” Each helper has their own cascading MOCHA for their stream of work.
  • Your consulteds include your manager, the communications director, and the program director.
  • Your ED is the final approver on the budget and you are the final approver on the program.

MOCHA for Fundraiser

Manager Owner Consulted Helper(s) Approver
María You! Rini (event plan and your workload as needed)

Kevin (major donor list, work plan for Joelle)

Ariana (program, work plan for Thuy and Kara)

Joelle (outreach and registration)

Thuy (fundraising)

Kara (program logistics)

Mana (budget)

You (program)

Using MOCHA to Advance Equity and Inclusion

In many organizations, someone is driving the work by default—or team members get asked for input without full acknowledgement for their insights, time, and talent. Who’s seen as “in charge,” who becomes an invisible “helper,” and who’s actually driving the work often mirrors race and gender disparities in the workplace. Used properly, MOCHA can interrupt this pattern, make everyone’s contributions more visible, and complement your organization’s equity and inclusion work.

When used on teams with an active commitment to equity and inclusion, MOCHA can help ensure people who play important roles in projects receive recognition and credit for the work they do. Every person in a MOCHA has authority, agency, and ownership over something within their sphere of work, even if they aren’t the driver (owner).

That said, MOCHA is not a magical antidote to pre-existing issues with hierarchy or power. Managers, owners, and approvers should be especially intentional to check for bias as you plan projects and consider who you’ll consult or ask for help. When paired with Fair Process decision-making and effective management (that is, equitable, sustainable, and results-driven), MOCHA can make the implicit explicit in ways that build participation and more fully acknowledge each persons’ contribution.

At TMC, we use MOCHA to affirm ownership, encourage collaboration, and make roles transparent, which helps us be specific with our praise and acknowledgment. We know some organizations don’t use the word manager, and that’s okay. Others dislike the words “owner” and “helper.” In a world where ownership is often synonymous with property and help is devalued or uncompensated along lines of race, class, gender, and ability, flex the acronym if you need to! Call the manager the mentor, and the owner an organizer. We always love a good remix.

Regardless of how you change up the words, the purpose stays the same. MOCHA helps structure efficient, inclusive collaborations. It makes project experiences smoother so people can spend more energy on the missions that matter.

For more on MOCHA roles and implementation, see Frequently Asked Questions About MOCHA.

3 Tips for Implementing MOCHA

1. Get consent.

As you clarify roles on a project, talk to people. Managers/approvers should never enlist an owner without their consent, and owners should never enlist helpers or consulteds without theirs. Make sure people are on board for their role and have the context, information, and resources they need about the project (try our Delegation Worksheet for help thinking this through). You might say, “Hi, I’m working on YYY project and I have you on my list as a potential helper. Being a helper would mean I’d be asking you to do X. I think it’d be a time commitment of Z over the next month. What do you think? What would it take to make room for this given your other priorities?”

2. Work those parentheses.

Be specific about what piece of work each person will own, approve, help on, etc. Use the parenthesis after a person’s name to clearly define their role. It helps collaborators know what’s expected, how to engage, and (sometimes) when. Consider developing a project plan to get even more specific about steps and deadlines.

3. Cascade your MOCHA.

On large projects, it’s often helpful to have more than one tier in your MOCHA. When a helper needs other people to accomplish a piece of work, they become an owner on the second tier of a cascading MOCHA. The overall project still has one owner, but the helper’s piece gets its own mini-MOCHA. See an example in our Frequently Asked Questions About MOCHA.

When to MOCHA

Some people want to MOCHA everything, and while it might be fun (for some of you), it’s not necessary. We recommend using MOCHA when you’re solving a specific problem or working with a project where roles and points of engagement aren’t obvious. Good times to MOCHA include:

You notice…
The Context
How to Use MOCHA

Balls or details are getting dropped (or people are tripping over each other duplicating effort)

You’re part of an education equity coalition that meets quarterly to improve college readiness outcomes across six high schools. You’ve been rotating meeting facilitation, applying for grants together, and planning for a lobby day. A few big things have fallen through the cracks, and the group is unclear on who’s supposed schedule with key legislators.

Use MOCHA to break the work into subcategories and create a workflow for the year. One coalition partner owns agendas, another helps with scheduling and documentation. Another partner owns lobby day logistics and helps the coalition get explicit about leveraging relationships with legislators when it comes time to schedule meetings. Ensure no one partner carries too much burden, define concrete roles for helpers, and schedule check-in points for partners to consult.

The project is complex and your helpers need helpers

Your data manager is a helper on a large grant project, owned by the Development Director. Their area of work involves coordinating data entry temps, wrangling data from four departments, and gathering info from 12 member organizations.

Use a cascading MOCHA to clarify all the parts your data manager “owns,” including who they will rely on to help and consult, and which approvals go through their supervisor (the Ops Director) and which go to the project owner on the development side.

There’s a relay involved with different phases of a project

Your annual report gets worked on over three months, but the same person doesn’t need to own every stage. The Managing Director will remain the manager/approver and sets up the timeline. Then three people will own different phases with a team of helpers and consulteds: Program director owns content then passes to operations director for financial report. Then, the communications manager handles all aspects of design, editing, and distribution (with the other owners as consulteds in the final stage).

Use MOCHA to get clarity about each phase so everyone can see each other’s work sync up and understand who to communicate with (next person in the relay) if there are any delays.

Your current division of labor is creating inequities in process, participation, or outcomes

Your coalition includes four people with the knowledge and skill to draft a comprehensive policy brief before the upcoming session. Often the bigger organizations take on the work because they have more staff capacity. That happens to be true this time, as well, but you want to be intentional that writing the brief doesn’t mean “having more say.”

Use MOCHA to co-design a process that ensures grassroots groups are consulted to shape core messages at the beginning. Identify at least one approver to represent the smaller groups in the coalition, while the organization with capacity assigns staff to own writing and editing.

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