4. When NOT to Use Role Names

This page is part of the Holacracy Habits series.

As you continue to practice the habit "Name the Role that feels the Tension," remember that outside of any specific Role, you also show up as a person. And while that may be obvious, it’s often not obvious how to express the difference.For example, sometimes new facilitators will do a check-in round by saying: "Ok, Marketing Role, your check-in?" "Now, Finance, your check-in?" The problem is that people are checking-in as people, not as roles. When sharing a reaction during the reaction round of a governance meeting, you’re doing that as a person as well.We highlight this because to appropriately reference the role structure, you also need to know when not to reference it.We have two rules-of-thumb to help with this:

Rule #1: Roles Don’t Have Information, People Do.

The Circles and Roles captured in GlassFrog give you a map of the needed functions and expectations of the organization. It’s not a communication or information structure. So, imagine you’re in a Tactical Meeting of the General Company Circle and someone asks a question that you could answer, but you only know the answer because of your work in another Role inside of a Sub-Circle. Can you answer the question? Of course! Even though your Sub-Circle Role isn’t present at the meeting, you still have information relevant to the conversation. Just make it clear, "I know my Sub-Circle Role isn’t here, but I have information I can share. "In the conventional management hierarchy, people have one role or job title. Executives talk to executives. Managers talk to managers. And information generally flows along the same lines as authority. This isn’t true in Holacracy. Information flows where it needs to flow. So, if you are doing work for the organization (i.e. making decisions or taking action) it should be in a Role. But if you’re just sharing an opinion or something you know, feel free to say something like, "This is from me as a person."

Rule #2: We’re Just People Unless Specified Otherwise.

Also, when two people greet each other in the hall, the default assumption should be they aren’t in any specific Roles. Just knowing the people involved won’t tell you what work (if any) is being done. Then, should either of them want to make a request or get a specific Role’s perspective, they have the ability to clarify the changing context with all of its related rules and expectations (e.g. "Glad you’re feeling better... Hey, is it OK if I ask you a question as Website Manager?"). This distinction is important for people working in Holacracy-powered companies for the same reason soccer players need referees to blow their whistles to signal the beginning and end of play. Players need to know when the rules of the game apply. If we don’t make that distinction, we open ourselves up to all sorts of confusion and frustration. After all, during a soccer game, you’re allowed to get physical and steal the ball. But you could go to jail if you do that after the game is over. Different contexts have different rules. Again, the rule-of-thumb is that the default space is non-role space. But if the conversation includes a decision or some implicit expectation emerges, then use the Role structure to get clear (e.g. "Yeah, I do think it would be a good idea... and just to be clear, are you requesting a project from one of my Roles?").

There you have it: Two rules-of-thumb for when and when not to reference Roles.

Role names aren’t intended to replace first names. We are people first. Holacracy is simply saying, we’re not people only. When it comes to work, we're also our Roles. And making that distinction explicit makes a world of difference.

The world is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck. —Ralph Waldo Emerson