The importance of a role

At work the other day we were having one of those team-building sessions, led by an external ‘facilitator’ to help us get the best out of ourselves. A little cheesy at times, but there was one part that really made me sit up and think. At the beginning of the session he asked each of us to briefly tell us our role. We dutifully went round sharing our job titles, in my case a Web Developer. Once we’d all contributed, he said “No, those are job titles. What’s your role?” So then we started thinking about what we actually do, in my case making websites. Again, he challenged us: “No, that’s a to-do list. What’s your role? Why are you here?”

It wasn’t intended as an existential question about the meaning of life, but there is some cross-over I suppose. What he meant, it turns out, was to get us thinking about our purpose in the business, to think more conceptually about what we bring to the table, without all the jargon and technical terms that others might not understand. It’s actually quite difficult to completely separate my purpose from my output, but I’ll give it a go.

As a ‘senior’ developer in a team of creative people, my role isn’t just about producing websites – we have others who can already do that. I’m here to help improve our collective capability and expertise, teaching new skills and sharing best practice. I’m here to mentor the other developers and help them improve. I’m here to transform ‘good’ into ‘excellent’. I do make websites as well, of course, but even there I’m assigned to websites that need to be really good, better perhaps than they might have been without me. Boiled down, my role here could be described as “to make things better”.

What’s interesting about taking this approach to defining myself is that it’s less precise, and yet arguably easier for everyone to understand. Others in my team might have roles such as “to transform ideas into reality”, and “to make sure everything happens”. People outside our team don’t need to understand how we achieve what our role promises, they just need confidence that it will happen.

And all this got me thinking – could I apply the same principles to other areas of my life too? What is my role in the family? What is my role at church? What is my role in the other groups I’m involved in? And is my role distinct, i.e. do I bring something to those contexts that no one else does? Or am I just another cog in the wheel? Food for thought.

What about you? What’s your role? Feel free to comment below!

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