Life in the professional world is uneasy to say the least, and everyone is looking to turn up the certainty dial. People are shifting direction from startups to more established & steady “big” companies and many are leaving large companies to do something on their own or focusing on building an anti-fragile career, grabbing more control of their work, focus and energy.

One theme I’m noticing recently is the demand for having and holding hard, clear lines about “what I do, and what I don’t do.” When things are shaky like they have been, it’s natural to want to be clear about what we’re responsible for, making sure we cover it and limiting activities that jump into things we’re not responsible for.

“Hey, if I stay in my lane, no one can fault me for that, right?”

If everyone does this, we have a bureaucratic, red-tapey nightmare. It’s terrible for everyone. Rules and requirements are built to protect everyone’s lanes, there’s permission for everything and no one makes a move without deferring to higher levels of leadership for decisions.

When we’re at home we don’t hold singular roles like husband, child, sister, or parent. We have many roles at home, like teacher, advisor, friend, garbage collector, dish washer, appointment maker, and dog walker.

At work, we often demand a super clear, protected, singular role. That robs us of joy in being able to be helpful and useful in lots of areas, it hides gifts that we have, and it signals to everyone that we need to be told what to do and how to do it every step of the way.

If you’re working in a factory, this works just fine and is probably needed. If you don’t work in a factory, this mindset keeps us locked into leading and working like we did 100 years ago. Teams don’t want to work this way.

Are you part of a team that works this way but wants to try new things, safely experiment, and learn? Bring it up, make suggestions, and talk to your leader about it. What’s possible?

If you’re leading, try and notice any tendencies you have about using absolutes, creating rules, and being right. Also notice when people defer to you for decisions or next moves, when you’re hesitant to have a difficult chat with someone, or when you’ve gone a long time without asking someone for their opinion. Remember that as a leader you’re still a member of the team.

This isn’t a campaign for “everyone’s job is everyone’s job” – only hoping that we can use our need for clarity and certainty to open up our tightly held roles, talk to each other more, and create more productive and enjoyable places to work.

Here are a few related resources that I’ve enjoyed recently and have been sharing:

1 // The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra has no conductor, but everyone is a leader within the group while holding multiple roles. They’ve won Grammy awards, using a decentralized leadership style, to make beautiful music. Two of the members of Orpheus talk about self-management in this episode of the Brave New Work podcast. (49 min listen)

2 // Keith Ferrazi talks about reigniting teams and assessing them for an ability to be high performing, resulting in writing a “new social contract for teams”. I especially liked a few new moves called out, all used to build trust and support within a team: bulletproofing, candor breaks, and open 360’s! (15 min read)

3 // What’s better than free? Things that only humans can provide. “Abundance brings a sharing mindset…generosity is a business model”, this post talks about 8 generative qualities like immediacy, personalization, and embodiment. We can bring the experience that creates attention. (10 min read)

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