Job Titles and Job Descriptions

The topic of job titles and job descriptions includes the process of how roles and responsibilities are defined and by whom, how they evolve and how they are formalized within the organization.

A New Perspective

In Teal organizations jobs are defined by people rather than the organization.: They emerge from a multitude of roles and responsibilities that reflect the interests, talents, and the needs of the organization. By focusing on what needs to happen rather than jobs, Teal organizations are often more adaptable and responsive increasing their capacity to operate as a living system. Every historical stage has given birth to a distinct perspective on job titles and job descriptions, and to very different practices:

Red organizations

The defining characteristic of Red Organizations is the continuous exercise of power in interpersonal relationships. Overall, there is no formal structured hierarchy and there are no job titles or formalized job descriptions, although maybe clearly delineated roles. The chief must demonstrate overwhelming power and bend others to his will to stay in position. To provide some stability, the chief surrounds himself with family members (who tend to be more loyal) and buys their allegiance by sharing the spoils. Each member of his close guard in turn looks after his own people and keeps them in line.

Amber organizations

Amber Organizations bring stability to power with formal titles, well -defined hierarchies and organization charts. The overall structure is a ‘pyramid’, with a cascade of formal reporting lines from top managers or leaders to subordinates. Clear rules stipulate who can do what. Job descriptions and titles are set by the senior leaders to create homogeneity across the organisation. . Many schools, churches, and the Civil Service operate this way today with standardized job descriptions and pay bands. The advantage of this approach is that it enables organisations to achieve on a significant scale. In the process it provides stability and certainty for those employed.

Orange organizations

Orange Organizations also have organization charts, well-defined job titles and job descriptions. Meritocracy is valued allowing anybody to move up the ladder if they are able. People are not expected to ‘know their place’ and remain in a pre-destined role. Each position will have a job description and title to reflect their place in the organization. The process for defining a job description is more fluid, with the emphasis likely to be on end results rather than duties. Titles matter in these organisations because they describe both the area of responsibility of the jobholder and their status.

Green organizations

Green Organizations also have a hierarchical approach, but are more likely to talk about roles than jobs. Areas of responsibility are defined through the organization charts. Decision making is pushed down to front-line workers who can often make significant decisions without management approval. Jobs and roles are likely to be more generic and fluid, leaving a degree of freedom in how they are carried out. Titles are less important and employees are often referred to as citizens or family members. Job descriptions refer to external and internal stakeholders and stress the importance of relationship management. The HR team play a key role in describing jobs so that they fit the values and purpose of the organization.

Teal organizations

in Teal organizations jobs are defined by people rather than the organization.: Jobs emerge from a multitude of roles and responsibilities that reflect the interests, talents, and the needs of the organization. There are often no job titles or job descriptions. If job descriptions they do exist, they tend to be short, describing a set of accountabilities to the team and/or each other. In some Teal organizations titles are used to denote role and function, in others there are no titles at all. People typically have the option to switch and trade roles according to workload and preferences. By focusing on what needs to happen rather than jobs, Teal organizations are often more adaptable and responsive increasing their capacity to operate as a living system.

In Practice

Granular roles vs. defined jobs

In Teal organizations most people no longer have a single “job” that fits a generic description; instead, they fill a unique combination of roles.

Job titles and descriptions rarely do justice to unique combinations of roles, and they are also too static to account for the fluid nature of work in Teal organizations. Colleagues frequently switch and trade roles according to workload and preferences.

Thinking in terms of granular roles instead of predefined jobs creates great fluidity and adaptability. People can give up one role and take up another without needing to go through the cumbersome and often political processes of appointment, promotion, and salary negotiation.

Identity & Fit

Without a job title, it becomes that much harder for people to merge their identity with the position they hold. This fusion is commonplace today. When we believe our job is who we really are, we start thinking and behaving accordingly. Without job titles and job descriptions, we are more likely to see ourselves and others as human beings who simply put their energy into specific work for a period of time.

Anotherkey benefit of this approach is that people tend to choose (and be appointed to) roles that have a much better fit with their interests and talents. When people can’t turn to a job description to tell them what to do, they have to find their own unique way to fill a role with life and meaning.

Scope and naming of roles

Not everyone is equal and all the jobs are not the same. Some roles have a rather narrow scope (say, the role of operating a certain machine or cleaning the office), while other roles take a broader perspective (for instance, the role of designing a new product line). The fluid arrangement of roles (instead of defined job descriptions) also allows for a better matching of talent with roles.

In Teal organizations there is usually one person recognized for taking the broadest perspective, and usually they are called the CEO, at least by the outside world (even though they don't hold the same responsibilities and power as a traditional CEO). Some well-defined roles can be named, but for the vast majority of employees, people don’t bother trying to find a label to capture the different roles they hold at any one point in time. In many cases the terms of "employee" or "staff" is often dropped entirely and in some cases replaced with the word, "colleague".

Management tasks within roles

The traditional tasks of a manager - direction-setting, budgeting, analyzing, planning, organizing, measuring, controlling, recruiting, evaluating, and communicating - are distributed amongst various members of a team. People are not accountable to one manager but to their peers, every one of whom is a boss in some respect. Anybody can put on the hat of “the boss” to make important decisions, launch new initiatives, hold underperforming colleagues to account, help resolve conflicts, or take over leadership if results are bad and action is needed. Many Teal organizations have noticed that “management’ creeps back in if too many leadership tasks are taken on by any one individual. For this reason people typically have the freedom to change teams and attention is paid to how work is distributed. The flip side is that people are no longer forced to take on management roles that might not fit their talents in order to advance their careers.

One of the difficulties, for those used to an Orange or Green organization, is that it is much harder to know where you fit. The absence of grades and job titles makes career development and salary progression much less certain. People in Teal organizations are generally much more comfortable managing their own progression.

Knowing who is responsible for what

Outsiders, and sometimes even insiders, can find the absence of job descriptions and job titles confusing because it is less clear who is responsible for what.. For this reason some organizations keep a log on their intranet allowing people to record the roles they are currently filling. This aids clarity and helps others understand their expertise.

Frequently Asked Questions

The tasks of management - setting direction and objectives, planning, directing, controlling, and evaluating - haven’t disappeared. They are simply no longer concentrated in dedicated management roles. Because they are spread widely, not narrowly, it can be argued that there is more management and leadership happening at any time in self-managing organizations despite, or rather precisely because of, the absence of fulltime managers.

Concrete cases for inspiration

Related Topics

    Notes and references