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

A well defined process to create, modify and assign roles

In Holacratic language, people don’t have a job, but fill a number of roles. (The Holacracy constitution defines a role as consisting of three specific elements: a “purpose” to express; possibly one or more “domains” to control; and a set of “accountabilities” to enact. Some roles will have all three of these parts, though often roles will start out with only a purpose or just a single accountability and evolve from there. A purpose tells us why the role exists: what it aims to achieve. A domain (of which there may be several) specifies something the role has the exclusive authority to control on behalf of the organization— in other words, this role’s “property,” which no other role can mess with. And each accountability is an ongoing activity that the role has the authority to perform and is expected to perform or otherwise manage for the organization.[1]

When someone senses that a new role must be created or an existing role amended or discarded, they bring it up within their team in a governance meeting. Governance meetings are specific meetings where only questions related to roles and collaboration are to be discussed. A detailed description of the governance meeting process can be found here.

Holacracy's constitution calls for organizing roles into “circles”. The roles a circle contains are a breakdown of what’s needed to express its overall purpose, enact its accountabilities, and control its domains. Circles (“sub-circles”) are in turn grouped within broader circles (“super-circles”) in a nesting fashion all the way up until the biggest circle contains the entire organization (the “anchor circle”).[2]

In Holacracy, each sub-circle contains a special governance role called the “Lead Link” which is appointed by the super-circle to represent its interests in the sub-circle. The Lead Link does not manage the circle but does have the authority to assign people to roles and to set priorities within that circle.

Holacracy's constitution stipulates that certain specific roles (the facilitator, the secretary, the Lead Link and the "Rep Link") are appointed using a consent-based election. All other roles are appointed by the person holding the team's Lead Link role. (See Holacracy's constitution for a detailed description of the process).

An internal "Role Market place" to help in trading roles

HolacracyOne has set up a company-wide Role Market Place in order to make trading roles easy (in holacratic language, this is an “app;” it’s not part of the basic operating system). On the company’s intranet is a file where colleagues can “rate” every role they currently fill, using a scale of -3 to +3:

  • If they find the role energizing (+) or draining (-).
  • If they find their talents aligned (+) or not (-) with this role.
  • If they find their current skills and knowledge conducive to (+) or limiting in (-) this role.

Using the same scale of -3 to +3, people can also signal their interest in roles currently filled by other people. The market place helps people wanting to offload or pick up roles.

A formal process for defining and allocating roles which takes place once each year

As a Morning Star colleague, you write a personal mission statement (“Personal Commercial Mission” in Morning Star’s language) and spell out all of the roles you commit to perform in a document called the Colleague Letter of Understanding (or simply CLOU). Roles at Morning Star are defined very specifically, so you might well hold 20 or 30 different roles (one might be receiver of tomatoes at the unloading station, another might be trainer of seasonal whole peel sorters). For each role, you specify;

  • what it does,
  • what authority you believe you should have (act, recommend, decide, or a combination thereof),
  • what indicators will help you understand if you are doing a good job, and
  • what improvements you hope to make on those indicators.

In a continuous process like Morning Star’s, each person in the chain receives tomatoes or paste in some form from someone upstream and delivers them in another form to someone downstream. This might explain why colleagues at Morning Star chose to discuss the CLOUs, once written or updated, not in a team setting but in a series of one-on-one discussions with colleagues up and downstream.

Here is a sample CLOU document (link to be fixed). A more detailed discussions of CLOUs can be found here.[3] article on Corporate rebels blog describes the conditions for the proper functioning of self-management at Morning Star

A consent based election process to allocate roles within teams describes the Sociocratic election process in the following way:

The circle meets for the purpose of deciding who is the best available person for a job. Election is by the consent of all members present or their consent to using a method other than consent. Alternate methods may include range voting, preference voting, majority vote, etc. The group may also consent to delegating the final decision.

  1. The election leader reads the job description. The job description defines the aim of the election. As an aim, it establishes the basis for argument and consent. The group may have previously defined the functions and tasks of the person to be elected and consented to the job description, or it may be done in the same meeting. The election leader may have been previously elected, may be the regular leader of the group, or may be elected in the same meeting. This is determined by the size and complexity of the organization and the nature of the election, whether, for example, it is expected to be highly competitive or is a key position.
  2. Nominations are submitted in writing as simply X nominates X. Circle members may nominate themselves. They may nominate someone who is not a member of the circle or nominate an “outside search” for someone not currently a member of the circle.
  3. Members give their arguments for the person they nominated. All arguments for one nominee are presented in the same round, asking the additional nominators if they have arguments to add to those of the first person to present. The election leader should monitor whether arguments are based on the job description and the ability of the person to fulfill its requirements and stop the presenter if they are not.
  4. Nominators change or withdraw nominations. After arguments in favor of nominations are presented, members are given the opportunity to change or withdraw their nominations.
  5. Open discussion or rounds on the qualifications of nominated members. Depending on the size of the circle, members may do rounds to discuss the candidates or have open discussion facilitated by the election leader. At this time any concerns about or objections to candidates may be addressed by the candidate or other by other members of the circle. When appropriate, the election leader may suggest that one person seems to be the best candidate. The group must consent to this decision.
  6. Candidates accept or decline. When one candidate has received the consent of all members present, that candidate is asked if they will accept the position. Candidates are not allowed to decline before this point because some candidates migh decline prematurely for fear of standing for election or inappropriately believing themselves to be unqualified. On hearing why their peers have elected them, candidates are more likely to accept.

Candidates may also accept with provisions, such as a modification in the job description, additional financial or personal support, etc. The group must decide to accept these changes by consent. If they do not, another round may be conducted to elect another of the candidates nominated or a new election conducted.[4]

An internal recruitment process in which future colleagues interview candidates for a role.

At Sun Hydraulics, minor role changes often take place organically, by people simply stepping up to take on a role or opening a conversation about the need for someone to take on that role.

When a larger role is created or an existing set of roles becomes available (say there is a need for an automation engineer), an internal recruitment process takes place. Candidates are interviewed by the colleagues who will work most closely with the person filling the new role.

Related Topics

    Notes and references

    1. Robertson, Brian J.. Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World (Kindle Locations 619-623). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition. ↩︎

    2. Robertson, Brian J.. Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World (Kindle Locations 676-677). Henry Holt and Co. Kindle Edition. ↩︎

    3. Source: ↩︎

    4. Source: The article gives further interesting information about conditions that make for good or bad election decisions. ↩︎