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Week 18, 2022—Issue #202

Team Evolution: Owner Roles, Contributor Roles, and Contributor Teams

Photo by Smartworks Coworking on Unsplash

Each week: three ideas for how to build better organizations. This week: three ideas on team building and evolution. (Originally published in the WorkMatters newsletter on May 6, 2022).

I’ve been thinking about the ways in which teams form and evolve in role-based and fractal organizations (see #177 and #190, respectively). There’s a pattern. Consider the following:

1. Owner Roles

A team is really just a job role whose responsibilities have grown and become distributed amongst several people. But it all starts with one role and one person, and that’s the Owner. This is the role ultimately accountable for the team-to-be’s purpose, whatever that purpose might be. The Owner role can start out as a side hustle, but it’ll grow from part-time to full-time in response to organizational needs.

EXAMPLE: In a startup, it’s initially up to the founder to manage the firm’s finances. The scope of that role will however grow with the size of the company which, at some point, necessitates the hiring of a part-time or full-time specialist such as a CFO.

2. Contributor Roles

If the role’s scope grows beyond the capability of the Owner, they might choose to delegate discrete parts of their responsibility to one or more contributors… thus creating a de facto team! The situation will dictate what responsibilities get delegated and to whom. What’s important is that anything not delegated remains the responsibility of the Owner!

EXAMPLE: The CFO works to optimize the firm’s finances. They might choose to create an accounting role with the purpose to manage company books. The new Accounting Manager becomes responsible for bookkeeping while the CFO remains responsible for everything else.

3. Contributor Teams

If the scope of a contributor role grows beyond the capability of the person holding it, they too can choose to delegate parts of their responsibility! If that happens, the contributor becomes the Owner of a team-within-the-team. Like before, he or she will delegate discrete responsibilities but remain accountable for the overall purpose.

EXAMPLE: The Accounting Manager might choose to delegate tax and auditing to two new roles, thus creating an Accounting Team within the overall Finance team. The AM will remain responsible for everything in accounting except tax preparation and financial audits.

Note the difference between “accountability” and “responsibility”:

  • A responsibility is something you do — a task or duty that must be performed. Responsibilities can be delegated.
  • An accountability is the literal ability to account or report on events and experiences. Accountabilities can not be delegated.

For more on this, see Stop confusing: Accountability vs. Responsibility vs. Authority!

The Owner role may delegate discrete responsibilities, but they are always accountable for everything that happens within their team. The CFO might delegate accounting to the AM, but he or she remains accountable for it given that it is part of his or her overall purpose.

It’s also true that the Owner remains responsible for everything not specifically delegated. The AM might delegate tax prep and auditing, but he or she remains responsible for all other accounting tasks, including budgeting, forecasting, and communications, etcetera.

Make sense?

In my experience, this approach is either completely obvious or completely mind-boggling. Whichever camp you’re in I hope you agree with me when I say it’s brilliantly simple… maybe? With just a few simple rules regarding Owners and Contributors, we can potentially scale organizations indefinitely with teams within teams within teams — from the C-Suite all the way to the front-line personnel.

That’s all for this week.
Until next time: Make it matter.

Did you know? WorkMatters is a weekly newsletter that explores new and better ways of working. New issues drop Fridays at 10 AM ICT and subscription is free. Back-issues are published to Medium after three months.



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Andreas Holmer

Andreas Holmer

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