Roles and Responsibilities

In the context of an evolving Role Map (Separating Role From Soul), and its associated Realms (Nested Realms, Small Teams with Clear Interfaces), we can now begin the process of assigning people to roles.

Once a role is defined, a person (or machine) needs to steward it. And as the company has new needs, new roles need to be created.

While at any point in time, a company can be described as a series of roles and the relationships between them, a company works because people energize these roles, and because new roles can be created as they are needed. Therefore, it is crucial to have a process by which new roles are created, and by which people are assigned to roles.

This process is important; it should both serve the mission of the company as well as the people in the company. It should be clear enough so as to minimize the potential for conflict, and lightweight enough so as to allow people to work quickly and take on new roles fluidly when they see a need.

At the beginning of any startup, this role assignment process is easy; people see a need, and they take it on. There is little potential for conflict, because there are few people and lots to do. And clarity tends not to be an issue, because everybody is in the same room and constantly talking to one another. Further, at the very beginning, the scope of the startup is small; all the things that need to be done can be kept in everybody’s head.

As the startup grows past a handful of people, these things change. When a new responsibility arises, it’s often not immediately clear who is the right person to take it on. And not everybody knows by default what everybody else is doing. The consequence is that, once a startup grows beyond a few people, an informal role assignment process can lead to confusion and collisions.

At the same time, the spirit of the informal role assignment process is important and empowering; people can see a need, and, if they have the bandwidth, they can take it on.

This suggests the following roles and responsibilities process, a mediated modification of the informal role assignment process. When a person sees a need, they can give advice to the steward of the appropriate realm to create a new role. If they have the bandwidth, they can also give advice to the steward of the appropriate realm that they should be assigned that role.

The steward of a realm is ultimately responsible for creating new roles in a realm, documenting them, and assigning them. This addresses the clarity issue (the documentation allows for each person to know what roles there are and who is energizing each one) and the collision issue (the steward of a realm assigns a person to a role).

This is not remarkably different than Holacracy. In Holacracy, people have the ability to create roles through a governance process, and then a lead link prioritizes and assigns roles. In effect, in Holacracy, the role creation process is actually an advice process to the lead link as to the roles that should be prioritized and energized. In our model, we allow those outside of a realm to also give advice, and to do so outside of the context of a governance meeting.

It is also not remarkably different from role assignment in traditional management, where a manager assigns roles to the people on the team. The differences here are that roles are explicitly documented, and there is a culture of giving advice on roles that should be created.


When somebody senses that a new role needs to be created, they may give advice to the steward of the realm in which the role most naturally fits to create the role. If they have the bandwidth and desire, they may also give advice that they should energize the role. Whenever a role within a realm needs to be energized, the steward may assign the role to person whom they see best suited for the role, provided that the person is also interested in energizing that role.

Both the steward of the realm and those who express interest in a role should do a Best and Highest Use exercise. For both, who is the person to best further the mission? Do they have the skills necessary to execute on it well, will they enjoy doing it, will it contribute to their growth, and will it serve the mission of the company for them to do so?

Published May 5, 2019