Working with Roles as a team

Working with Roles
as a team

How can teams use Roles to work better together? What are the benefits of working with Roles for teams? How can working with Roles help your team to reduce friction and irritation, improve communication, have fewer meetings, and deliver more value?

Define your team mission

When you work with Roles, the first thing you want to do as a team is to set your goal. What is the mission of the team? What do you want to achieve together? Making your purpose explicit and writing it down as a mission statement is the first step towards working better together.
Once the team goal is clear, it becomes easier to identify the work necessary to achieve your goal. And to divide that work into slices: Roles

Divide work into Roles

When you work with Roles, you create clearly defined pieces of work and decision-making and delegate these slices to individuals in the team.
You make these packages very explicit. You get together with your team and specify how each Role will help achieve the team goal. You write down all responsibilities each Role has in achieving the team mission.

List the responsibilities for each Role

When you create Roles, you divide the work into coherent packages. Each package has a title and a purpose. For example, a team could have a Role called ‘Planner.’ The purpose of that Role might be ‘Creating a planning for the team.’ To do this, the planner needs some explicit responsibilities. For example:

You write responsibilities in a format that usually starts with a verb that ends on -ing. Each responsibility is an activity that needs doing (hence a verb) and is continuous.
Don’t worry if your first set of responsibilities is not perfect. You will get better over time. And just like your work, Roles are dynamic and adapt constantly.

Delegate Roles to individuals in your team

A team delegates each Role to an individual. Taking on a Role is like saying: “I will do this part of the work for the team.” When you take on a Role, you become accountable for the work and decision-making defined in the Role.
In our example, this means that the person taking on the Role of ‘Planner’ will be responsible for ‘Creating a planning for the team.’ She will keep track of holiday plans, manage the team calendar and invite the right team members to each meeting. Those are the responsibilities the team listed for this Role. But it is up to her how she does this.
Chances are that once she starts with this Role, she will find that the Role needs additional responsibilities or that existing ones need to be more specific. In the next team meeting about Roles, she can propose modifications to ensure the Role correctly represents the work she does as a planner.
Updating and sharpening Roles ensures that everyone on the team knows what to expect from each other.

Not all Roles are created equal

Some Roles represent larger slices of work than others. Roles are usually smaller than traditional functions. Therefore, it is common for individuals to have multiple Roles.
Sometimes Roles are delegated to several people. An example might be a team that builds a website, where two programmers work on the code together. They both fill the Role of ‘Coder,’ possibly combined with other Roles.

Governance meetings

When you work with Roles, you hold a recurring governance meeting. The governance meeting is a team meeting where you discuss the team’s Roles and responsibilities. You don’t discuss the work you do, but you discuss how you do it.
Team members can prepare for the governance meeting by listing things that are unclear to them. Maybe some things need doing but are not assigned to a Role. Or there is an unclarity about where the work of one Role starts and the other begins. Or maybe there is room for improvement in how deliverables pass from one Role to another. In the governance meeting, teams discuss all topics related to how they work together as a team.
You can find more information on governance meetings here: How to run effective governance meetings

Frequency of governance meetings

When you start with Roles, it is typical to have a governance meeting every week. During the first meetings, your team forms an initial set of Roles and responsibilities. Talking about Roles takes some getting used to, and it is helpful to plan two or three meetings close together.
Once the first set of Roles and responsibilities is defined, it is advisable to have a weekly governance meeting. Roles will require finetuning, and new areas of unclarity are likely to emerge. In this phase, your team might discover that they need more Roles to describe their work as a team. Each team needs to find its rhythm with governance meetings. Schedule a governance meeting weekly and start each session by listing the talking points.
As your team gets more accustomed to thinking in Roles, there will be less to discuss, and governance meetings will become shorter. Once they drop below 30 minutes, you can double the time between them. So you can move from a weekly to a bi-weekly meeting.
However short they are, make sure you schedule one with the whole team at least every month. A governance meeting helps team members address tensions and unclarities that might otherwise grow into irritations or conflict.

Working with Roles comes naturally

Working with Roles is not complicated. Most people are used to having a job description of some sort. You probably got one for your current function. Chances are, you do work not listed in your job description. And there are probably things in your job description that you never do.
The concept of Roles is easy to understand and apply for most people. But it takes some time to get used to thinking in Roles instead of functions.
When you start working with Roles and already have an up-and-running team, you can start with the job descriptions you already have. Take an hour to discuss and write down the responsibilities per Role. Have another meeting with the team after a week or so, and start adjusting the Roles to become better reflections of the work you do. You might even conclude that you need to create a new Role.
Congratulations, you are now working with Roles.

Roles make expectations explicit

Most people have an idea about what they will contribute to their team. And we usually have an assumption about what other people will contribute to the team, often based on past experiences with persons in similar functions.
Unfortunately, assumption is the mother of all f***ups. The expectations we have from each other might be incorrect. Or incomplete. And if our colleagues don’t meet our expectations, we are disappointed or irritated with how things go. These tensions affect the quality of our teamwork.
When working with Roles, the expectations we have from each other are made explicit. Discussing responsibilities as a team and writing them down creates a shared understanding of what we expect from each other. Roles are concrete, transparent and tangible, which makes them easier to discuss and resolve than personal assumptions.

Fix issues before they become irritations

One of the advantages of working with Roles is the structure it provides to debate how you work together. Not everyone’s needs and habits are the same. Discussing Roles and responsibilities makes these differences explicit and enables team members to recognize them. Working together is easier when you understand how someone is different from you.
When you discuss how you work together weekly, you will find there is always something to improve. Issues get on the table long before they become a problem. Not talking about what you expect from each other is a recipe for irritation in the long run. Talking about them every week will help you catch misunderstandings and assumptions long before they get in the way of happy teamwork.

Working with Roles reduces conflict in your team

Talking about conflict is not easy. As with assumptions, conflict feels negative and emotional. Having clearly defined Roles helps reduce conflicts. A team culture of discussing how you work together and how you slice the work into Roles supports your team in having healthy discussions instead of personal irritations.
Roles are more abstract. A Role is not a person but a slice of work someone does for the team. Therefore discussing Roles and the responsibilities that come with them is much safer.

Team communication is more effective with Roles

When you work from a clearly defined Role, you know what to do and others what to expect from you. Because teams define their Roles together in governance meetings, all team members are on the same page.
Working with Roles has a positive impact on communication within your team. With clarity on Roles, it becomes evident what topics you need to discuss with whom. And with all team members working from their Roles, interactions become more focused and to the point. Meetings become more useful for all attendees, improving both atmosphere and speed.

Shorter meetings

When there is clarity on who does what, you also have clarity on communication. You know what you need to talk about and what information comes from what Roles. You can focus communication on the right people and exchange information faster.
The governance meeting is the place to address any unclarity about who does what. There, team members can address ambiguity with the whole team. So discussions about who should do what will no longer hijack appointments about work.

Fewer meetings

When Roles and responsibilities are clear, it is also clear what meetings you need to attend or organize. And during what sessions your Role does not need to be present.
And there is more good news. With a clearly defined Role, your accountabilities are transparent. There is no need to seek permission to do the work specified in your Role (the team delegated the Role to you!). Having a detailed Role prevents the situation where different people have different interpretations of your permissions. All meetings needed to clarify and align those interpretations will vanish.

Teams get more work done with Roles

Once you have fewer and shorter meetings plus a better-defined picture of what you need to do, you will get more work done. And that is not just you, but everyone on the team.
That is why teams that work with Roles increase their productivity. As soon as your team gets comfortable with thinking and acting from Roles, there will be more time and energy to do great teamwork.

Teams working with Roles produce more value

When your team works with Roles, the Roles describe the work the team needs to do to achieve its mission. Working from Roles keeps people working on the right things. By aligning your Roles with your team goal, you create an autopilot for creating value.
Having regular governance meetings with the whole team keeps people aware of the team goal and how the work in the Roles delegated to them helps to achieve that collective mission. It also helps to keep improving on achieving the team objective by sharpening Roles, creating new ones if needed, and updating Roles to reflect the dynamics of the work. Your teams’ Roles form the agile documentation of all responsibilities.

Balance workload with Roles

Teams that work with Roles can balance the workload with ease. When one of the team members has too much work on their plate, this can slow down the whole team. If the person under pressure has multiple Roles, team members with more time can aid by (temporarily) taking over one of the Roles.
If the person only has a single Role, the team can split this Role into multiple smaller ones. By creating smaller slices of independent work and decision-making, team members can redistribute their workload while at the same time enhancing the level of detail in their documentation of who does what. It is always possible to delegate multiple Roles to one individual, but splitting work into independent slices makes it easy to share and redistribute workload between team members.

Build a healthy and happy team

Working with Roles reduces quite a few negative aspects of teamwork, such as:

When you work with Roles, you drastically improve the chances of reaching a new level of team productivity as a happy, hard-working team that achieves its goals.
Teams that are happy and organized produce more value for their organization. You reach goals faster, create better products and services, and positively impact others in your organization. If you work in a happy team, you will find time and energy to inspire others and help them bring their teamwork to a higher level.
We wish you a happy team!

Start with our team workshop

If you think your team will benefit from working with Roles, we have just the thing for you: A ready-to-go workshop template to help your team get started with Roles.
Workshop: Start working with Roles

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