Fluid Job Titles and Job Descriptions at Teal Organizations

Fluid Job Titles and Job Descriptions at Teal Organizations

Jarek Jarzębowski - September 13, 2022

In teal organizations, the traditional approach to job titles and descriptions is seen as a constraint. With self-organization, teams are able to emerge fully and take ownership of their tasks. This leads to more fluid roles and responsibilities, which can benefit the organization and each individual. Fluid teams are able to move more quickly and efficiently in agile projects, as they are not hindered by rigid job titles or inflexible workflows.

I have previously signaled in the article about self-management that we are not tied to the job descriptions and titles at nexocode. In this article, I will try to unwrap it further and answer some questions that might pop into your head, especially if the majority of your experience is with traditional and hierarchical companies with strict job titles, responsibilities, descriptions, and tasks.

Standard Approach - Strict Job Descriptions

In most companies, one can find a fixed set of titles and positions packed into departments and teams. It is no surprise because it has worked well for many years. Yet, in teal organizations, we are not so sure that it is the only and correct approach.

Usually, when you join an organization, you can expect a name plus a job title on a business card or in an e-mail signature. It often helps because an outside person can immediately understand what expertise one might bring to the table, what might be the scope of potential decisions he can take, what he deals with daily, etc. It also helps with the distribution of tasks and responsibilities by supervisors and, in some companies, allows for a straightforward pre-defined career path.

While this all sounds well, in teal organizations, we take under scrutiny the underlying principles:

  1. Who said that a person could only represent a set of skills and responsibilities tied to a given position?
  2. Who said that only managers, execs, or directors can make decisions?
  3. Who said that supervisors should distribute tasks?
  4. Who said that supervisors are even necessary?
  5. Who said that what has worked well in the past will work well today?
  6. Who said that a pre-defined professional career path is the best way for everyone?
  7. Who said an employee cannot take on other challenges that are not strictly associated with the role?

The Teal Alternative - Fluid Roles

In a teal organization, like nexocode, we challenge all of the above by introducing more fluidity in roles and responsibilities. We do not want to constrain people’s potential. We want them to be able to grow and develop in the organization according to their wishes, talents, and abilities. There are no pre-defined career paths. And there is no need for supervisors to distribute tasks because teams self-organize around the work that needs to be done.

Reinventing organizations - from red organizational structure to teal paradigm

Decision-making is diffused among all members of the organization. This way, everyone can take ownership of the decisions that need to be made and feel responsible for the outcome.

We don’t believe in something just because someone said it is true, and thus, we don’t think that the standard approach is the best way to move forward.

We use more unique solutions, like financial transparency or running a 95% remote, and you can find out more about them in our Running Teal blog series, but below I will focus on the fluidity of job titles and responsibilities and their place in a teal organization culture.

top-down approach from orange organizations, centralized control at green organizations, and decentralized communication of self-managed teams at the living entity of a teal organization

Top-down approach from orange organizations, centralized control at green organizations, and decentralized communication of self-managed teams at the living entity of a teal organization

Fluid Approach to Organization Structure and Professional Career Path

We should talk about our fluid approach to job titles and descriptions, but first, we might unpack a fluid career concept. It starts with acknowledging that we don’t know the future. We don’t know everything. We live in VUCA or BANI times which accelerate every year, especially in the IT industry in an AI-driven world. A fluid approach to a career embraces ambiguity and allows for a non-linear path - from industry to industry, from area to area. It also allows one to develop in a T-shaped way. We are creatures driven by curiosity, passions, a drive to self-fulfillment, and also circumstances.

Not allowing and not acknowledging the fluidity of our lives would be counterproductive. The times of two (youth-work) or three (youth-education-work) stage lives are gone. We are now living in multi-stage lives where after the youth stage, one can have multiple mixed phases of education, work, self-employment, mini-retirement, work for an NGO, etc.

We all intuitively know that the above is often correct, yet most organizations don’t embrace this fact and treat people as constants. Fortunately, at nexocode, we are not like others.

The Fluid Future of Business

With work becoming less about machines or routine and more about evolving outcomes, jobs have become increasingly flexible and dynamic. Some experts even believe that traditional fixed-term employment and work from nine till five will soon disappear altogether in many areas. This change is being speeded up as ways of working move away from hierarchy to networks of teams, shift focus from prescribed routines to expanded job descriptions, and prioritize broad capabilities over narrow skillsets.

Businesses that want to stay competitive in the future need to embrace this concept and allow for a more fluid approach to roles and responsibilities, as well as a non-linear path when it comes to professional careers. This approach benefits and supports each employee, as well as the organization as a whole. It allows for more creativity, innovation, and engagement from each team member.

What Do Fluid Roles Actually Mean?

When we look for people to join nexocode during the recruitment process, we need to focus on well-established standards, which means that, of course, we look for positions with a set of criteria. Still, during the process, we always explain that we work in a more fluid environment where one can change the responsibilities and even roles - for a fixed time or indefinitely. It all depends on circumstances and the trajectory of the personal growth of the individual. You can start as an Engineer whose passion for esthetics drives you to a Designer position, dip your toes in this area to understand that not only it is more fulfilling but also you create more value for the team, move the “permanently” only to discover that there is yet another area where you can strive and grow into multi-faceted role of Designer-Project Lead-Consultant.

And all of that is not only accepted but also encouraged. We want our people to grow and develop - it’s in our company DNA.

I know that one can argue that it is also possible in standard settings and regular companies, but such transfers are not that common, and usually, they mean that one needs to change the supervisor, say goodbye to previous projects, and start over.

We understand that a broad experience base can be valuable because it gives another perspective and can act as a bridge between different areas.

This is why, though we formally have titles and positions - such as Product Designer, Product Lead, People&Culture Lead, and Software Engineer; we don’t look at them as narrow and fixed in stone. We prefer to use them as a starting point for growth and core areas of expertise, which is a base for a fluid job description.

Fluid Job Description

With fluid job titles come fluid job descriptions, meaning that a person is much more than a business card says. It allows people to grow in many directions, use multiple talents, foster interests and provide more opportunities and challenges. Such an approach enables us to handle organizational challenges in a more agile way and have the entire team more engaged.

We see many people engaged in outside work projects - open source or simply side projects, and we believe that it is very often a way to grow beyond that standard job description one has in his day job. Unfortunately, it also means that it affects working hours and wellbeing. What is often a better approach is to give the possibility to grow in multiple directions during work hours.

Fluid job descriptions and responsibilities allow for more flexibility in how we do things at nexocode because we allow people from different backgrounds to pitch in other areas. Having said that, I need to understate that we still focus on a significant area of expertise - both during the recruitment process and in our day-to-day jobs, because we strive to develop excellence in our projects.

Fluid Teams over Stable Teams - An Agile Approach to Project Management

The concept of fluidity can also be applied to teams working on agile projects. The traditional way of thinking is that a team should be stable, consisting of the same people throughout the project. However, this approach may limit the potential of the team because it does not allow for new members with different skillsets to join in and contribute to the project. Stable teams may also limit the possibilities of integration with other teams and building peer relationships, which can lead to silos and a lack of collaboration. A more fluid approach would be to have a core team that remains stable throughout the project, but also allow for new members to join the team as needed. This would give the team more flexibility and the potential to adapt to changes.

We also encourage some movements in team composition when we approach some temporary projects or parts of project implementation (e.g., a new sub-team that will work on a certain feature or module). This new temporary group would need a natural leader and a clear goal to achieve. Once the goal is achieved, or the project is finished, this fluid team would be dissolved, and people would return to their previous teams. With fluid teams, we guarantee knowledge sharing (from the technical perspective and business logic), but we also create space for people to grow into new roles and responsibilities.

In a similar way, we approach some of the organization-wide initiatives that do not have stable teams or departments. We see many people engaged in such initiatives and construct ad-hoc smaller teams, and we believe that it is a way for them to grow beyond their standard role and gives them the freedom to test how they feel in new tasks. For some, it might also be an attractive, short-term switch from their standard tasks and responsibilities and a way to integrate with other team members that you normally don’t work with so often.

We encourage people to participate in such initiatives and construct fluid teams, and we provide support in the form of time, resources, training, and mentorship. From a teal organization perspective, fluid teams also empower a decentralized decision-making process. These practices allow us to handle organizational challenges in a more agile way and have a more diverse team that has all the skills required to succeed and is self-organized. Diversity of opinions, skills, and backgrounds is a strength of a teal organization, and we should use it to our advantage.

Why Such Focus On Fluidity and Natural Hierarchies?

A fluid approach to job titles and descriptions supports creating a deeper sense and has a positive impact on overall group performance. It is important to remember that a job title or a job description is not you. It is not your identity. And it should never limit you. A job title and description are just tools we use in our organizations to help with coordination, communication, and clarity of expectations.

In a teal organization, we embrace the fluidity of people’s roles and responsibilities. We believe that this allows for more creativity, innovation, ownership, engagement, and development opportunities for everyone involved. We want employees to be able to grow and develop in the organization according to their wishes, talents, and abilities.

We don’t want to constrain people and limit their potential to learn and grow, and we see strict job titles and stable teams as such constraints. The other end of the spectrum, where there are no rules whatsoever, no areas of expertise, and no job descriptions, is not the solution as well. Chaos is not the best structure. Fluidity is a structure that grows and changes but is still present. Enabling fluidity means that we limit instances of the “it’s not my job” and “I don’t care about that” approach and gives us room to use the full scope of our capabilities. The good of the project and company is then not in the hands of a chosen few at the top and should be in the mind of all the people involved.

If you also believe that job title and role should not act as chains to talented people interested in different things, then make sure to check out our careers page and find out the starting points that we are looking for at the moment.

About the author

Jarek Jarzębowski

Jarek Jarzębowski

People & Culture Lead

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Jarek is an experienced People & Culture professional and tech enthusiast. He is a speaker at HR and tech conferences and Podcaster, who shares a lot on LinkedIn. He loves working on the crossroads of humans, technology, and business, bringing the best of all worlds and combining them in a novel way.
At nexocode, he is responsible for leading People & Culture initiatives.

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Jarek Jarzębowski
People & Culture Lead

jarek.jarzebowski@nexocode.com

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This article is a part of

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