What are we really saying when we start using the phrase ‘roles & responsibilities’ ?

This is a phrase that crops up a lot, especially in the beginning of an agile transformation. Strongly unilateral, un-agile, hierarchical organisations and cultures are built on roles. Roles tell people what to do and when! Roles also tell us who we must listen to and what decisions we must make. The problem is that we no longer work in a highly predictable world, so roles are no longer as stable as they used to be.

So what happens when Agile comes in or we actively want to shift our corporate culture out of the red tones that Laloux describes ? What happens to roles and what does it mean when people start to use roles as a reason why not or crutch ?

Here are some of my thoughts on what this phrase could be telling us.

1. We think that someone is NOT doing their job

2. We think that someone else is doing my job (that isn’t their job)

3. We don’t think what we have just been asked to do is actually my job

4. We want to know how to be safe and not get into trouble and or embarrassed publicly so what is it you expect me to do exactly !

5. We want to get someone else to do something and don’t have enough influence or power so what is my mandate ?

6. How do I fit into the flow ? What is my contribution ?

Knowing why people are bringing in roles and responsibilities is only one half of the conversation and a conversation it is. In the new world of change and uncertainty roles shift from pre-defined and never changing to something more fluid.

This is where some of the thinking embedded in Holocracy is useful. Roles become intentional, co-created things. The way forward is to talk about how you perceive the role and find out how others are seeing it. It sounds simple but it is a big step for an individual to take in a highly compliant, subservient culture. Starting these conversations  takes courage & a belief that you have a right and permission to talk and lead.

What do you guys think ?

How are roles creating or inhibiting flow in your space ?

How have you experienced this and what tactics have you used to shift it ?