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Week 44, 2021 — Issue #176

Org. LEGO: Responsibilities, Roles, and Positions

Photo by Xavi Cabrera on Unsplash

Each week: three ideas on the future of work. This week: three terms to help understand role-based organizations. Originally published in the WorkMatters newsletter on Nov 5, 2021.

I want to talk about the benefits of role-based organizational structures. But to do that, I must first provide a bit of terminology:

Enter Organizational LEGO — a simple analogy to help us think about the building blocks that we use when designing organizations:

Let’s dig in.

1. Responsibilities

A responsibility refers to a description of an individual task or duty held by one or more people (e.g., Scheduling onboarding sessions with new joiners). They’re represented by the 1x1 bricks — our smallest organizational units.

2. Roles

A role refers to a coherent group of responsibilities held by one or more people, usually on a part-time basis (e.g., Onboarding Facilitator). They come in many sizes and are represented by mid-sized bricks (i.e., 2xN).

3. Positions

A position refers to a coherent group of roles held by a single individual, typically full-time (e.g., HR Manager). They’re presented by the 6xN brick — the largest organizational unit we’ll consider in this particular analogy.

In traditional, position-based, organizations, we typically skip roles and assign responsibilities directly to positions. The end result is that we end up with long and unwieldy job descriptions assigned to specific individuals.

In the LEGO analogy, this equates to randomly placing small bricks atop a large one with the hopes of creating a homogenous whole. It can work… but the bricks are stacked against you, so to speak.

The innovation of role-based organizations is that they use roles rather than positions as their primary unit of organization. And the result is something a bit more manageable:

Ease of configuration and reconfiguration. That’s one of the benefits that role-based organizational structures provide. But there’s more. And I’ll venture to details some of them in next week’s issue.

Until then: Make it matter.


PS. One obvious benefit of using roles to group responsibilities is that it makes the responsibilities easier to remember. To understand why, I invite you to explore concepts like chunking and The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two from cognitive psychology.

WorkMatters is a weekly newsletter on and about the future of work. It’s written and curated by Andreas Holmer.

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Andreas Holmer

Andreas Holmer

Designer, reader, writer. Sensemaker. Management thinker. CEO at MAQE — a digital consulting firm in Bangkok, Thailand.

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