I am not a fan of roles, well at least not a fan of how big corporates use them – like a blunt instrument to keep people in a pre-defined box, their value and greatness prescribed! When teams shift out of unilateral, red, bureaucracies into Agile they shift into a world of autonomy, self-management and roles, well roles start to get ambiguous.

How do we keep a role when we are also trying to allow people to make decisions for themselves ? Because roles have with them the exclusive power to make decisions.

Then there is a movement where people deny roles as being the cause of silo thinking and so the reason why people abandon accountability. The reason for the phrase, “it’s not my job!”. Well yes, if you are using roles as a bludgeoning instrument to get your job done and have no relationships with the people you are working with and are functioning in a culture of blame and fear.

But what if roles weren’t an either/ or ? I am the first to admit I am NOT the poster child for roles. I find them restrictive and they can and often do cause more harm than good, yet I am also seeing another way of using roles – as a way of negotiating how we interact. To work together as a high performing team we all need to know who does what and when. Pre-defined roles are intended to do just that – define how we engage with each other. For me though roles aren’t static, pre-defined definitions that come out of Human Capital. For me roles are living base-lines that we engage with on a daily basis. A role is a way to have a conversation around expectations. What do you expect from me, this is what I expect from you, is that what you are expecting to be doing ? When we consciously and actively and implicitly have these conversations we take a huge amount of frustration and uncertainty out of our daily lives. We no longer need to worry about stepping on toes or stepping out of line or of having to find a line that is invisible because it has never been clarified. By owning and crafting our roles and the roles of the others around use we are living in true empowerment.

You would think that this would be an easy idea to get people to buy into and use. I mean who wouldn’t want to know how to engage with the people around them ? Who wouldn’t want to know what to expect and when and so be able to get things done without the fear of somehow messing up or offending someone ? Yet, even in Agile teams, we are still living with the idea that it is somehow rude to ask someone what they do, so we don’t ask and instead assume and pray that we have assumed right.

My invitation to you is to spend some time writing down what it is you have taken accountability for and to start a conversation with someone you work with to find out if this is how they see it as well ? Then write down what you expect from that person and find out if that is what they are expecting to be doing. This isn’t about forcing your right answer onto the world, it is about starting a conversation that allows us all to work with each other with ease and once that happens, well then miracles happen.