Design partnerships not job descriptions

October 24, 2021

When designing organizations much effort can be put into defining individual roles. It’s important to clearly spell out each individual’s responsibilities. Or so goes a type of conventional wisdom. In fact, this idea misses the reality of collaboration.

Collaboration requires communication, so it happens in the space between individuals. It takes the form of an exchange of ideas. Expressing one’s self clearly and listening well. When effective, collaboration hinges on being able to rely on each other.

A job description focused on one individual’s responsibilities risks missing these living spaces in-between people. In addition to itself, each job is a node in a dynamic network of connections. The texture of each of these connections is what we must design most thoughtfully.

Consider occasions an engineer and designer will blend their perspectives to think together. Or when a designer and product manager might collectively discern what their users need most. Sometimes, two engineers will connect their minds to work through a problem better than either can on their own. In every case, the way each half of a pair relates to the other makes their partnership. This is their shared understanding of how both minds will meet and move in unison, even when temporarily apart.

So next time you’re about to describe an organization in terms of jobs and individual responsibilities try something different. Instead, ask who each person might need to work with and what form their interactions must take.

A good enough way to start doing this might be with a DACI; it’s one tool to examine the overlap between collaborators. Or even more simply, habituate one-on-one conversations accompanied by warm beverages and no distractions. Whichever way, instead of merely describing what people will do alone explore what pairs of people, in partnership with one another, can accomplish together.


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Written by Abhi Hiremagalur in San Francisco.Why not sign up for letters from me or simply say hello.

© 2021, Abhi Hiremagalur