Role Definition and Allocation

This article describes how roles are defined and allocated in Teal organizations.

A New Perspective

In Teal organizations, members fill roles that are created, exchanged and discontinued in reponse to current needs. Documentation of these varies from the precise to the informal, based on the nature of the organization.

Consequences of this approach are, commonly:

  • No organization chart No hierarchy
  • No formal promotion process
  • Individual commitment to a number of roles
  • Lack of job titles and job descriptions
  • Sharing of the traditional management tasks of planning, monitoring, recruiting, on-boarding, coaching, etc.
  • Evolution of roles as people gain skills and respect
  • Creation of opportunities for new colleagues

In contrast, role definition and allocation in earlier stage organizations can be summarized as follows:

Red Organizations

In Red Organizations the status of group members is denoted by their proximity to the leader. Role allocation is at his discretion (or that of his close allies). A failure to align with the leader’s wishes will likely result in a loss of status. Loyalty and success are likely to earn more power. Family ties to the leader may also determine status.

Amber Organizations

Formal charts, hierarchies and titles are typical in Amber organizations. Roles and promotions are based on formal processes. Power can be a function of:

  • The personal opinion of a higher ranking member
  • Specific criteria (like years of service, title or qualifications)
  • Membership in a particular social group or caste, ethnic group or gender

Orange Organizations

Roles in Orange are fixed, tied to a box in an organization chart, and documented in a “job description”. Many roles focus in part or whole on “managing” those below in the hierarchy. Thus roles are inevitably linked to seniority, title and promotion.

Thus roles become interwoven with other activities like succession planning, job rotation and talent management. These are designed to groom "high potentials" for future management roles

Green Organizations

Green organizations are similar to Orange in respect of roles. But the emphasis on ‘managing’ others is tempered by encouragement to act as servant leaders. In some companies, subordinates can select the person to fill the role of their manager.

In Practice

Roles instead of jobs

In self-managing organizations, there are no jobs, no "boxes" on an organization chart, no hierarchical layers of management, and thus no formal promotions to any of these "boxes". Instead, every colleague has a number of roles that he/she has agreed and committed to fulfill. The traditional tasks of a manager (anticipating, planning, monitoring, recruiting, on-boarding, coaching, etc.) are typically scattered among various members of the team. As people grow in experience, they take on roles with larger responsibilities and offload simpler ones to new recruits or more junior colleagues.

How roles get defined

Some organizations use mostly informal processes to define roles. Others have put in place more formal processes.

Informal role definition

In some Teal companies, when someone senses the need to create, modify or scrap a role, they step forward, use the advice process to consult with relevant people, and make a decision.

If the organization is structured around teams, a team meeting is the natural place to have this conversation. If the role extends beyond the team, the initiator can call a meeting, have several one-on-one conversations, or share the suggestion on the internal social network.

Formal role definition

Other companies have formal processes for defining roles. Here are two: the first involving a team-based conversation, the other, one-to-one exchanges:

Team-based conversation: Holacracy is an organizational "operating system", that uses specific "Governance meetings" dedicated to the creation, modification and cessation of roles. Usually these are held monthly. Every voice is heard and no one can dominate decision-making. Organizations using Holacracy find that every month a team will typically adapt, clarify, create, or discard roles. (Note: A person has multiple roles.)

One-on-one conversations: Morning Star uses a formal, one-on-one contracting system. Each colleague completes a document for every working relationship. Because Morning Star operates a highly efficient, non-stop process (in which each stage relies on the one before and after), precision is necessary. It would be inefficient to stop the line for a colleague conference. The document that describes these mutual commitments is called a Colleague Letter of Understanding. When summed, these detail all roles and commitments. In effect, these are "contracts", negotiated with the handful or two of colleagues they work with most closely. They are refined and agreed directly, one-on-one. Because minor improvements can have significant impacts, it makes sense to define roles with great granularity, and to track indicators closely.

How roles get allocated

There can be various degrees of formality in the process of how roles are allocated to colleagues, but they all essentially involve peer consultation and agreement. Roles with more responsibility and scope (which typically are rewarded with higher compensation) tend to be given to colleagues who have built up a reputation to be capable, helpful and trustworthy.

Informal role allocation

When a new role is created, in many cases there is a obvious candidate that emerges naturally. It might be the person who sensed the need for the new role, or another team member that everyone sees as the natural person to fill the role. Often, very little discussion is needed. A simple question in a team meeting ("Who feels like taking on this role?" or "I feel Catherine would be the be the natural person to take on this role, what do you think?") is all that is needed.

Formal role allocation

In some cases, several candidates express heavy interest in the same role and a more formal process might be called for:

  • Interviews: Candidates may be interviewed by those who will work closely with them. Interviewers can choose to decide on the winning candidate using a number of decision making mechanisms, such as consensus, majority vote or the advice process.
  • Elections: Sociocracy and Holacracy use a consent-based election process for certain roles. Colleagues nominate their preferred candidates. A facilitator then helps the group to decide.
  • Advice Process: One person (for instance, the person who sensed the need for the new role, or someone others trust to lead this process well) steps forward and seeks advice for who would be the best person to fill a new role before making a decision.
  • Designated Authority: Allocating roles can be a role itself: in Holacracy, the "Lead Link" is a role that comes, among other, with the authority to allocate operational roles.

Trading roles

Because roles are granular, it is easy to trade roles within a team. A person who is overly busy can ask someone to pick up one of his or her roles, either temporarily or permanently. Someone who wants to acquire a new skill can ask a colleague to trade a role. HolacracyOne has a "role market place" to facilitate this process.

Scope of responsibility

In Teal Organizations, while people have clear roles and responsibilities, their concerns need not be limited to these. They can take the well-being of the whole organization to heart. Then, via the advice process, anyone can take action if they sense an issue. As there are no bosses, there is no one to say, “That is none of your business.”

Morning Star talks about "total responsibility”. All colleagues are obliged to do something when they sense an issue, even if it’s outside the scope of their roles. That usually means talking about the problem or opportunity with a colleague whose role does relate to the topic. It’s considered unacceptable to say: “Somebody should do something about this problem”, and leave it at that.

Frequently Asked Questions

By the very nature of the division of labor in organizations, people end up taking up certain roles. Colleagues often feel a need for clarity around these roles, for example "I need help with X: who can I talk to?", "I have an idea to change something in this domain: who would be the natural person to make that happen?", "We agreed to do something that didn't get done: who was the person that committed to this?".

There is value, therefore, in creating clarity on roles and commitments. Some people can be allergic to any formality or clarity, as it reminds them of traditional, static hierarchies, job titles and job definitions. Remember, roles can be fluidly created, modified, exchanged and scrapped, using peer-based rather than top-down processes.

In traditional organizations, managers act on behalf of those below them. Many such ‘management’ tasks disappear in self-managing organizations. Those that are still needed can be distributed among team members. For example:

  • Anticipating: Everyone can anticipate the future, but some teams might find it useful to have one person dedicate time to anticipate the need for long term changes.
  • Planning: This can be further broken down, for instance into shift planning, raw material planning, etc. Setting objectives: Individuals and teams can set objectives to spur themselves on. One person can take the lead using the advice process.
  • Monitoring performance indicators: Compiling data into easy to understand insights to share with the team.
  • Recruiting: Taking the lead in the recruitment process of new team members.
  • On-boarding: Taking the lead in organizing the on-boarding of new team members.
  • Coaching: Coaching junior team members, or anyone asking for coaching.
  • Mediating: Mediating conflicts.
  • Facilitating: Facilitating team meetings and decision making processes.
  • Scribe: Documenting important conversations and decisions of the team.
  • Knowledge management: Capturing and codifying insights.
  • Continuous improvement: Taking the lead in maintaining processes for continuous improvement.
  • Coordinating with outside parties: Being the contact person for certain constituencies outside of the team ("I'm coordinating with the marketing team") or outside the organization ("I'm coordinating with hospitals, you are liaising with pharmacies").
  • Sensing team mood: Sensing how the team as a whole and persons within the team feel, and initiate conversations when needed.
  • Organizing social events: Creating events that build community feeling.

The advice process is the basis for which to make decision in these roles.


The ability to craft a role that caters to one’s strengths not only has the potential to strengthen the organization, it is a clear example of managing one’s self. There are no managers or bosses in Teal organizations that decide roles, Rather roles are self-determined with the consent of peers.


Equally, it is evident that the better the match between a person’s strengths/interests and their role, the more likely it is they can express themselves fully and freely via work.

Evolutionary purpose

When processes and a culture exists that help roles evolve continuously, it helps the organization adapt and support its evolving purpose.

Concrete cases for inspiration

Related Topics

    Notes and references