by Shayne Thomas
04 Feb 2021
That’s Not My Job, It’s Our Job
A few thoughts on the concept of ‘team sharing’ and its potential impact on employee engagement, productivity, happiness, growth, and development.
If you’ve been in the workforce long enough, you’ve likely heard fellow colleagues utter the words, “That’s not my job!” more times than you even care to count.
While that statement may technically be true based on someone’s official job description, it’s also an inherently easy way to deflect the blame when a certain task fails to get completed.
There are a number of issues here—and our purpose today is not to dissect them all. However, the biggest culprit in perpetuating an employee’s tendency to self-select what goes in the “my job” bucket versus the “not my job” bucket is what’s etched into the job description.
The double-edged sword of job descriptions
Of course, finding the right talent to fill a specific role requires writing a detailed and focused job description. And that’s perfectly fine because, by not setting a baseline of required skills and past experiences, you allow the floodgates to open and essentially create a free-for-all for any candidate to apply to an open position. So, in this sense, how you write your job descriptions can make all the difference in both who you recruit and who actually applies.
Now here’s where the job description becomes quicksand. While this may be to a lesser extent in a startup environment than within well-established or more traditionally-run companies, the prevailing assumption has often been that, once hired, employees are expected to carry out the duties explicitly set forth in the aforementioned job description.
You see, this is where the problem starts. In many companies, the job description has pretty much become the fall-back for determining what an employee should and shouldn’t do. In other words, it sets the so-called foundation for an employee’s role within a company. Over time, as an employee grows up the career ladder (or career lattice) within an organization, new responsibilities can be added to that foundation. In the case of changing job functions, all of that can be scrapped for an entirely new baseline job description.
The dilemma here is twofold: Although writing a great job description is critical for finding the right talent to fill a specific role, it shouldn’t become a limiting factor once someone is hired.
Shed the limitations of job descriptions with ‘team sharing’
Pim de Morree, co-founder and CEO of Corporate Rebels, has implemented some pretty unique and disruptive HR practices in an effort to boost productivity, engagement, morale, and even transparency among the company’s employees. A big part of this strategy involves doing away with job descriptions being the determining factor of an employee’s day-to-day work. Here’s what he had to say in a recent “Disrupt Yourself” podcast (with slight edits for clarity):
“An important thing to do...is to redistribute tasks within the team. Nowadays, we look at a lot of job descriptions. Say you're hired as a junior salesperson, and your tasks are already stated upfront in your job description. That's what you are here to do. Anything that falls outside of that job description is not your thing to do—so leave that to other people. This doesn't make a lot of sense, especially if things change very quickly in your company.”
He makes an incredibly valid point. Our historical over-reliance on job descriptions has boxed employees into a predetermined set of role-based “rules” that doesn’t allow them to use their talents to the fullest. On one hand, abiding by a job description makes it easier to set expectations and clearly identify where one employee’s role begins and another’s ends. On the other hand, it’s an easy way to wiggle your way out of responsibility when working on projects with teams of people, where each person has a specific role to play in driving a final outcome.
But is that the most effective way to work? De Morree doesn’t think so: “As a team, write down all of the tasks [needed] to be successful, cluster them into roles, and then let people pick the role they want to [play] based on intrinsic motivation—and not what is in their job description.”
This is essentially what he refers to as ‘team sharing.’ As a revolutionary strategy for improving employee engagement and increasing team productivity, it encourages teams to stay focused on results by allowing team members to tackle the tasks that play most to their strengths and interests. It’s not really a way of letting employees craft their own job descriptions, per se, as it is a method of overcoming the perennial problems of employee boredom and burnout.
Even more, by embracing a ‘team sharing’ employee activation strategy, the limitations caused by falling back on job descriptions as the be-all and the end-all of an employee’s experience go out the window. It, therefore, becomes a precise tool for recruiting the right talent; once an employee is hired, their job and experience can take on all sorts of forms.
The key benefits of ‘team sharing’
We believe in organizational effectiveness. In fact, everything we do at Cornerstone is designed to help companies operate at a higher capacity by giving them the tools to nurture their most valuable assets: their employees. But sometimes new ideas like this concept of ‘team sharing’ give us a moment of pause and an opportunity to think outside of the box.
It’s also a great reminder to allow ourselves to be creative and break free from the shackles of the status quo. At a time when so much change is happening—especially around the shift to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic—many perceived best practices of the past are now quickly becoming outdated. But that’s a good thing: It gives us all an opportunity to rethink what the future workplace looks like as well as how employees operate within it.
That’s why we feel like ‘team sharing’ really has the gravitas to inspire:
- Employee Retention: About 49% of millennials say they’ll likely quit their job within two years. The long list of reasons for this include dissatisfaction with current compensation, lack of career advancement, and few development and growth opportunities. We already know that millennials are a fickle group. But they are becoming a larger part of the workforce with every passing day. So the strategies companies put into place around employee engagement and retention must address the ever-evolving wants, needs, and expectations of today’s rapidly changing workforce. ‘Team sharing’ is an empowering philosophy that can boost employee satisfaction and happiness in a big way.
- Innovation: Because ‘team sharing’ doesn’t draw distinct lines in the sand around where one employee’s job begins and another’s ends, it organically creates a “test and learn” environment that can shift a company’s entire approach to innovation. The focus of this HR strategy is on working together towards a collective end result—and not so much about defining “who’s on first.” Getting to the end result can take a number of different twists and turns. As long as teams learn throughout the process—identifying best practices that can be carried into future projects—then whatever is perceived to be a ‘failure’ simply becomes a new insight into how to do things better. This is how innovation happens. The best ideas just don’t happen overnight. They are tested over and over again until, finally, something sticks. ‘Team learning’ amplifies this process.
- Employee Development and Growth: ‘Team sharing’ creates space for stretch goals. After all, once an employee has mastered certain tasks—especially those identified within their job descriptions—to stay motivated and engaged in their jobs, they need to be able to move onto tasks and projects that challenge them and teach them new skills. There are a lot of ways to foster development and growth within organizations. Continuous learning plays a big role here. But by keeping an employee’s day-to-day job fresh and exciting, ‘team sharing’ can simply make learning an organic part of the broader employee experience.
Don’t let your employees be tethered to their job descriptions
Hopefully, this has given you some food for thought. Obviously, each organization is a little different and might not (yet) be ready for implementing an HR strategy as revolutionary and disruptive as ‘team sharing.’ But knowing that the world is in a very different place today than it was even two years ago and that the workforce is quickly becoming dominated by millennials—who bring a unique “flair” to the workplace, so to speak—the time is now to start thinking about how to reinvent your organization for the future.
Part of this involves untethering employees from their job descriptions. Sure, a well-written job description is a solid tool for recruiting and hiring the best talent. But once you’ve onboarded an employee, it should not be the only thing that guides their day-to-day. Not only does it limit your employees’ potential, but even worse, it continues to make the “That’s not my job!” blame-game forever prevalent in the workplace. That needs to go.
‘Team sharing’ is simply one new idea for boosting organizational effectiveness, improving employee engagement and retention, increasing workplace productivity, and creating more transparency within organizations and teams. But there are a lot of other ways to amplify the potential of your company’s employees. For that, the team of HR experts at Cornerstone is here to help. To get started on your journey, reach out to us today!