Magically Redefine Your Team Roles and Responsibilities

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Last quarter, a few things happened at once with our team at Allovue. 1) We were at a major inflection point, shifting my focus as CEO from mostly on product development to mostly on sales & marketing 2) Our CTO’s wife was 7 months pregnant, so we wanted to free up some of his time to spend at home once the baby arrived 3) One of our senior developers expressed interest in more autonomy and more responsibility. Here’s how we redefined our roles & responsibilities in a process that we completely pulled out of thin air and resulted in everyone on our leadership team being happier and more productive in their jobs. I’m telling you: magic.

I gathered the leadership team into the conference room and started by writing our names on the whiteboard. One at a time, we went around the room and each person named every process or category over which he or she currently felt ownership and responsibility.

After everyone listed responsibilities, we made a list called “No Man’s Land” for processes that we felt someone needed to own, but no one had named. (Note: We also put things on this list that people forgot to name earlier, because we figured this was an indicator of a responsibility that was not high priority or top of mind.)

This next step is the most critical ingredient of the magic. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. I went around to each person again and asked them to tell me “Yes” for things on their list that they felt were the right fit for them, and “No” for anything on their list that they wished for any reason was NOT on their list – you don’t like it, you don’t think you’re good at it, you think it’s stupid… whatever. “Yes” items got a check and “No” items got an X and were moved to No Man’s Land.

At this point in the process, everyone had a list of responsibilities that they loved and felt were appropriate for them to own. Now we had to contend with No Man’s Land: all the things we felt were important for somebody to own, but either no one did, or the person who owned it until now didn’t want to own it.

For the final step of this process, we went through each item on the list and decided to either 1) assign it to someone else on the team 2) find a way to make it suck less for the person who crossed it off their list 3) hire someone to do it.

And that’s when the magic happened.

As we went through the list, my team’s secret interests, skills, and talents emerged as, one by one, people volunteered to snap up items from No Man’s Land and take ownership of them. Rosalyn admitted to secretly enjoying close-reading of legal contracts, whereas I hated it and had been slogging through them. Jason volunteered to take on Sprint Planning, a process that was a total drain for Ted, but a natural fit for Jason. Jake took ownership of all front-end and design processes, which had been awkwardly and inefficiently split between me and the dev team. Ted reclaimed some technical processes, once we realized that a week of time could set up playbooks to automate all the stuff that was wasting his time.

At the end of this exercise, there were only four items in No Man’s Land, and they exactly mirrored the job description I had just written up for our new Venture for America hire. MAGIC. We went around once more to confirm that everyone felt comfortable with their new roles. Ted said, “Wait – that list is my job now?” “Yes…” I said hesitantly. A huge grin spread across his face. It’s a really good day when your CTO is happy.

This entire process took 45 minutes.

A few months in, here are some things that have resulted:

  • Our dev team velocity is higher than it has ever been. I attribute this to a combination of the fact that Jason enjoys Sprint Planning, and Ted has more time freed up to write code.
  • We have fewer errors in legal documents, because Rosalyn is a true Eagle Eyes and catches every. single. thing.
  • Rosalyn has also taken major ownership over customer on-boarding and project planning, demonstrating her unique strengths as a leader in this area
  • Jake has streamlined design processes, which has further contributed to increased velocity
  • My time has been freed up to focus on sales and marketing

Here are some of my key takeaways from this exercise:

  • Don’t let corporate dogma dictate the roles and responsibilities of your team.
  • Making people do something because “they’re supposed to” will drain your employees and slow down your team’s velocity. Sure, everybody has to do some things once in awhile that they don’t love… but make sure it’s really “once in awhile” and not “most of the time.”
  • Take a strengths-based approach. Hopefully, you hired people who are uniquely qualified to contribute to your team. Play to their strengths. They will thrive, and the whole team and company will thrive right along with them.
  • Listen when people ask for more responsibility. Don’t let talent and leadership sit dormant in the organization. This doesn’t mean promoting everyone to an executive position, but find ways to give people opportunities for leadership when they crave it. This might mean giving someone a leadership role over a single project or feature in the short term, and it might unleash new skills and talents you never saw before.
  • Just because someone “can” doesn’t mean they “should.” Founding team members tend to be multi-skilled individuals. It’s easy to assume that because someone is capable of doing something, it makes sense for them to keep doing it. Take inventory of these things regularly – can someone else on the team do it faster, with more joy? This goes back to the strengths-based approach: are people spending their time in the most efficient way, given the skills and talents of the team as a whole? Make sure that people who are uniquely qualified at high-value, mission-critical tasks are spending as much time as possible on those tasks.

I expect that we will return to this process as we grow, consistently reevaluating how team members are spending their time, and ensuring that we’re leveraging leadership capacity across the organization – because a happy, healthy, productive team is nothing short of magic.

If you try this magic process, or have done something similar, I’d love to hear about it!

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