Agile People — Shift from Traditional Functions to Flexible Roles

Why the shift?

People are the most crucial assets of an organization. An organization with narrow functions is a system that encourages certain behaviors and discourages others based on functional prescriptions. People who don’t behave as expected take a personal risk of being punished even if they intend to improve or correct things. Therefore this is a system that needs to be replaced by one with flexible and broad roles, which leaves people the freedom of deciding “how to” do their work themselves based on good knowledge of why, and empowers people to have ambiguous multiple functions and work with fluidity by voluntarily helping each other in teamwork and adjusting their roles from time to time to accelerate work flow and improve efficiency.

How to define a role?

Let’s look at an example. There is a company that is in the situation where someone is needed to rapidly validate a business or technological opportunity by experimentation. Since the existing functions and processes are not ready for the exploration at all, there’s the need of establishing a broad, action-oriented role to take the task. Here is how to define such a role:

- Name of the role: We should avoid naming this role with a focus on “how”, such as Analyst or Advisor of something, instead give him a name that is why-oriented, e.g. Opportunity Explorer.

- Belief and attitude: Think what it takes for someone to become an opportunity explorer? Other than the basic competences, this person must really believe that innovation is crucial for the future of the organization and he must also have such an attitude as to want to participate in the experimentation and not be afraid of making mistakes.

- Responsibilities: To validate or invalidate business or technological hypotheses quickly and at the lowest cost.

- Necessary resources: To succeed, the role must have access to all essential resources including relevant information, systems, and personnel, as well as management support to generate innovative ideas and test the hypotheses.

- Suitable technical or functional profiles: It’s easy to understand that people with certain profiles are more suitable than others to succeed in such a broad role, such as a product manager, a designer, or an architect, etc. When no one with such a profile can be found in the organization, someone external must be hired.

Strategies to initiate the shift towards roles :

- One of the ways of doing so is to promote versatile career paths by rewarding people for their adequate levels of competence in a series of domains. In today’s VUCA environment, organizations need more good generalists who can learn quickly, collaborate smoothly, think creatively, and act decisively.

- We can also create a role based on a new function. For example, many organizations have the vision of integrating artificial intelligence in their products or services, for which it’s better to create broad roles responsible for it for people who have passion in the task.

- We can also remove the formal functions within a value-based team, and replace them with roles that team members can choose to play.

- Similarly, we can initiate the shift by systematizing and rewarding the transfer of competences. For example, every year, someone may acquire some new competence as an apprentice and in exchange he can teach someone else what he is good at as a tutor. In this way, we can progressively create more and more specializing generalists and thus more healthy and efficient collaboration among people across the entire organization.


Collet, B. (2018, May 28). From functions to roles. Retrieved from



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Maggie Sun

MBA, certified agile coach and experienced strategy analyst, specializing in business agility, agile leadership, Beyond Budgeting, and general management.