In our Summary, we made a few points worth repeating:

  • You aren’t a title. You’re a human being.
  • Human beings fill roles.
  • Roles are what you actually do at work.
  • Titles drive ego, Roles drive accountability.
  • And you most likely have multiple roles, not multiple titles.

The first time Team Sobol went through a Roles Documenting exercise (where we brainstorm all the roles on the Team) we found that, between the nine of us, we filled over 50 roles. Yes, our small software start-up had 50 roles! Because, roles, no surprise, are what we actually do at work.

Some of those roles only require one hour of work every two weeks. But they are still roles that someone needs to accomplish and that someone needs to be held accountable for accomplishing. That one hour of work serves a purpose that helps the business achieve its goals. The business would suffer if nobody took on that role.

There is no “better” role or “higher role”, there are just roles. No one on the team can say, “My role is like a Vice President and your role is like a Director so do what I tell you to do.” By acknowledging what we actually do at work (Roles) while removing something that doesn’t actually exist outside of our minds (Titles) we remove the shackles of hierarchy, naturally. When we remove the shackles of hierarchy we remove the burden of internal politics. Fulfilling work ensues.

There’s another benefit. Because we were hired onto the Team to accomplish certain Roles, when assigning owners to each Role, there is usually overlap between one’s skills and interests and their passions. People interested in trying other areas of work can even volunteer for certain roles to get that hallowed word called “experience.”

Alright, you got us, there are even more benefits. After completing the Roles documenting exercise we recognized what skills we needed to look for in future hires. And not in terms of titles, but in terms of what Roles those candidates had successfully filled with previous employers. Specifically, we recognized that customer success was an area we needed to hire for.

Our interns, time and again, have achieved results equal to full-time employees. This didn’t occur because we are masterful leaders. It occurred because the interns assumed a Role, just like everyone else on the Team, and accomplished that Role to the best of their ability. Nobody let a title like “Intern” affect what the interns should or should not be working on. We held them accountable to their roles and made sure they held us to ours.

We’ll let you in on a little secret: One of Sobol’s goals is to rid the world of “managers.” “Manager” is a title. It brings a whole host of ego-related issues to a Team. A” manager” is not the best person to give feedback or evaluate performance, but most companies put those responsibilities on them anyway. The collective Team is the best person to give feedback and evaluate performance. In the Future of Work, we all assume ownership of roles and therefore role accountabilities. Anyone on the Team can determine if one is meeting their objectives.

Some Teams create Roles such as “Mentor” and “Facilitator” with the necessary requirements of those roles. But there is an even better way to ensure Team members are doing good work. It is a role associated with every role called an Accountability Partner.

When the Sobol Team devised the initial 50 roles on the team and assigned owners to those roles, we also created an accountability partner for every role. Someone on the Team who would be a partner in ensuring role accountabilities were accomplished.

You might be asking, “Isn’t a manager kinda like an accountability partner for the entire team?” 

We’d say, “In a twisted way, maybe.”

But an accountability partner isn’t someone who evaluates you or stack ranks you against other members of the Team. An accountability partner is, well, a partner. Someone who wants you to succeed. Someone who knows that your success will make the Team successful (as opposed to making the manager look successful).

When we were managers, we hated that we liked how our “top-performers” made us look good. Of course, they would get extra special care and attention. We could point to their performance and say to our managers, “Look what a great manager I am!” Clearly, the high performer’s existence on the team was more a result of randomness (especially if a manager inherits a team from another manager) than our exceptional managerial abilities.

One of us was witness to an executive openly preferring another manager, despite what the numbers showed about manager performance. Even the raw data couldn’t make the data obsessed executive see past his biases.

We’d rather have Roles and Role Accountability Partners than managers who get credit where no credit is due. Or managers who just plain give into to their preferences and biases.