Separating Role from Soul

At the same time that we wish to have Small Teams, we also want to give the ability for each person to evolve, grow, gain competency in multiple areas, follow their own path, and separate their identity from the role that they are playing in the company. This can be difficult to do in the context of each person playing a single role on a single team.

The structure of an organization is inherently a structure of roles and their relationships. Of course, the organization needs people to steward these roles, but people can steward multiple roles, and move in and out of roles as befits them and the organization.

The benefits of granular roles are articulated well in Reinventing Organization and Holacracy. Granular roles provide more transparency into who is doing what, allow people to craft jobs that suit them well, and attach less ego to role, since micro-roles are being continuously added and dropped as the company evolves. Overall, micro-roles make a company more agile, as a company with micro-roles can more easily be in a constant state of evolutionary reorganization based on felt needs, rather than periodically going through large destabilizing reorganizations.

Even independently of microroles, organizing the company around roles rather than people has many benefits — it allows the company to define roles in the org chart even before there are people in the organization who are energizing them. And it allows people to talk about the optimal structure of the organization independently of the considerations of their specific positions within that structure.

And finally, allowing people to play multiple roles allows them to simultaneously have different positions in a role hierarchy. A partner may be leading one area, and be following in another.


Describe the organizational structure primarily as a collection of roles and the relationships between them. Describe the roles as granularly as possible, so that each person inherently plays many roles. Only after doing that, specify the person who plays each role, allowing people to play roles across different areas, and to easily move in and out of roles based on what is best for the mission, for the organization, and for them.

Continuously determine when to add new roles, when to remove roles, when to re-assign roles based on the Unfolding process, and a Best and Highest Use exercise.

Feel free to specify and include roles even before there is a person in the organization to energize them; doing so helps to write Scorecards for new hires. Create interfaces for each role describing the Ends, the Means, and the Clients (Role Interface). Do so in a nested structure, not just for individual roles, but for collections of roles (Nested Realms). Make sure that at each level, the number of roles is sufficiently small (Small Teams with Clear Interfaces).

Published May 5, 2019