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What roles do you fill in your team? Can you list them right here, right now? (Hint: Your roles aren’t the titles listed on your employment offer letter.)

The design of a person’s roles is one of the most overlooked sources of clarity and motivation. Too often, shared role expectations remain undefined. Worse yet, jobs get designed around tactical performance. There is a strategy, we turn it into a process, we write a job description to execute the process. Missing or poorly designed roles make it impossible to create a high-performing, self-managing team.

Let’s start by defining the term “role” as used in lead together (self-managing / Teal) organizations. A role is the collection of related responsibilities that need completed for an organization to deliver on its purpose. That’s it, simple. Rather than one person equaling one job description, an individual could steward multiple roles.

Writing Roles into Being

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When creating a role,

it gets articulated by including the following four elements:

A title: A clear and aligned way of internally (versus externally) representing this collection of responsibilities.

A role purpose: Expressed in a short why statement, the role purpose clarifies the identity and intention of the role. The purpose orients the action of a role even absent any other explicit accountabilities.

Accountabilities: Usually beginning with an -ing verb to convey the ongoing nature of activities (versus a one-time project or action). As a best practice, a role should have no more than six accountabilities. If the list is longer than six, wrap a few together and go broader. This is not a long list of specific tasks.

Measures of a role well stewarded: Provides specific indicators to the individual stewarding the role and their team. Having these indicators let’s everyone know if the role is being well stewarded.

Here’s an example of what a finance role might look like (courtesy of the team at Percolab):

●     Title: Banker

●     Purpose: Reduce financial stress of all members of the company, collaborators and organizations with whom we have transactions.

●     Accountabilities:

○     Acting as contact for Percolab with the government, documenting key information, exchanges and situations.

○     Writing checks, once documentation is duly completed and, if appropriate, approved.

○     Informing members if a difficult financial situation arises and work through it openly and collectively.

●     Measures of a role well stewarded:

○     Financial stress of team members is low.

○     Payments are made within 30 days.

○     No penalties or interest to the government.

Identifying new roles

When you sense that a new role might be needed on your team, start by asking yourself:

●     What work is the team doing that has not yet been documented?

●     What are people talking about? Where is the team’s energy flowing?

●     Where do confusions, roadblocks and tensions repeatedly occur?

Create appropriate placeholder titles to capture the essence of the missing or undefined roles. Resist the temptation to look outside your organization and focus instead on what your team needs. Every team has its own unique way of functioning.

Building Individual Role Descriptions

When designing a new role, consider compiling a collection of accountabilities and knitting them together. Once the accountabilities are defined, fill in the purpose and measures.

Often it’s challenging to articulate the elements of your own role. Having a colleague ask questions can be helpful. What do you do day-to-day? Why is that work important in contributing to our team’s purpose? How do you know if you’re doing a good job? What would be true if this role wasn’t executed well? What does it look and feel like when the role is being stewarded exceptionally well?

Create a first draft then have two colleagues iterate the document forward using their wisdom and experience.

For more support with the role definition process, reach out. We’re here to help.

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