Nature depends on self-organization to generate excellent results without a heavy “supervisory” footprint.

If we wrote job descriptions that were designed to help employees see the interdependence of their work environment and work collaboratively to serve the higher purpose of the organization, these tweaks would become standard in our job descriptions.

Job Title:


Articulate how this position contributes to the larger organization and the customers that the business serves. In a machine, we focus on the individual parts. In nature and living organizations, we focus on how people are connected to each other and the larger purpose of the business.

When we write a job description that focuses on individual duties, we let the employee know that their focus is on their list of duties. Any organization that is frustrated with silos can shift this dynamic by articulating how each position connects with other parts of the organization. These connections help people see their contributions within the organization instead of their separation.


Example Purpose for V.P. of Sales:

Lead the sales team to achieve organizational goals.

This position creates and organizes the distribution channels that communicate the organization’s value proposition to its customers. It is a critical place to gain feedback from customers. The sales team is the first place that the business gains information about competitors’ products and information. This information helps the organization learn when it needs to adapt and develop new products that will maintain and grow its market share.


Responsibilities and Outcomes:

Instead of an extensive list of duties specific to this position, the responsibilities and outcomes would list core areas that the person would be responsible for with specific duties clustered underneath. Identifying the main themes makes it easier for people to see the larger picture of the responsibilities associated with the job rather than a lengthy list of specific duties. Employees can see how they are related to each other from an organizational point of view. Core areas need to expand beyond the specific duties to topics of relationships and actively support the organizational culture it aspires to.

  1. Hire, train, supervise, develop, and evaluate direct reports
  • Hire talented staff who are competent and are a good fit within the organization
  • Coach, orient, and train staff
  • Supervise staff so they are successful in their positions
  • Provide ongoing feedback to employees to help them develop as professionals
  • Do annual performance reviews for all staff members on your team
  • Model core values of the organization
  • Develop a high-performance team that works collaboratively with each other


Plant Label Concept

Outcomes vs. Duties:

If you wanted to take a job description to the next level, experiment with articulating the key responsibilities as “outcomes” expected by a person who takes this position. Nature depends on individual species to self-organize their actions to serve the larger system.

When we frame job descriptions as expected outcomes in living interdependent organizations, we allow the individual in the position to figure out how to achieve the outcomes, rather than focus on listing the individual duties they are responsible for. For example:

  1. Develop a high performing team (this statement has a focus on the outcome instead of a list of actions)
  • Select high potential / competent team members
  • Develop staff individually and as a team so they are competent and successful
  • Create a team that actively cooperates with each other, other divisions, and partners within and outside of the organization
  • Provide ongoing feedback to direct reports so they constantly improve and gain capacity and success
  • Provide best in class service to customers



Create Cultural Expectations

Embed expectations on the culture you aspire to within the job description. For example, if your organization values active collaboration you could add a section in the job description:

  1. Actively support and cooperate with colleagues on the leadership team and provide leadership for the whole business and their divisions.

Nature creates conditions conducive to the life of future generations. If we applied this principle to our expectations of our senior leaders, they would be providing leadership for the whole organization, not just their part of it. The leadership team would be their first team and their division would be their second team. They would understand how each division contributes to the success of other divisions and the entire organization. Their staff would understand how they are connected to other divisions and the external environment as well.

Plant with Resume

Personal Specifications / Qualifications:

These additional specifications or competencies support self-organization in the workplace, reduce drama, and increase adaptive capacity:

  1. An outward mindset: employees need to be aware of how their actions and decisions impact others and have the ability, desire, and capacity to actively support the success of others in an interdependent organization
  2. The ability to initiate and organize their own work and hire and develop staff that can do this as well
  3. Emotional intelligence – the employee is self-aware and able to manage their own emotions. The ability to read and facilitate group dynamics to generate effective meetings, teams, and other relationships inside and outside the organization
  4. An active learner
  5. The ability to scan the external environment for information that helps the organization become more adaptive and innovative.

These are simple shifts that help a job description fit within an interdependent, dynamic, complex organization. Nature rewards cooperation, banks on diversity, and depends on self-organization. If we want the adaptive capacity we see in nature, we need to start embedding these expectations in our job descriptions.


Dr. Kathleen E. Allen writes a blog on leadership and organizations that describes a new paradigm of leadership that is based in lessons from nature and living systems. She is the author of Leading from the Roots: Nature Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World (available for purchase September 4, 2018) and President of Allen and Associates, a consulting firm that specializes in leadership, innovation, and organizational change. You can sign up for her blog on her website: