When I think about roles, regardless of where the person sits in the organization, I like to think of them as "head of something." That lets me focus on the "something" that the person is responsible for. This scales up and down the organization since the receptionist in a company is the "head of meeting people when they walk in the door and making sure the are comfortable and find their way to the meeting they are there for." More importantly, it forces senior execs, such as a COO, CSO, CPO, CRO, CIO, CTO, CDO, CAO, or CFO to define clearly what they are the "head" of.
Even in a tiny startup this makes sense. Everyone may get involved in everything, but what is it that each person is ultimately responsible for? Resolving that ahead of time helps solve two issues:
- Problems being ignored because everyone thinks they're somebody else's problem.
- People stepping on each other's toes and creating bad feelings.
Some people need hand-holding all the way to take responsibility for something. You ideally don't want those in a startup. Other people, at the opposite ends of the scale, react badly (for example, by not caring anymore) when you constantly step into their area of responsibility and override their choices. Being clear about who does what can help make sure you don't do that, and so let them do a great job.
Clearly defining areas of responsibility should be done, however informally, at every stage of a company's growth. One caveat: if you're spending lots of time discussing who's responsible for what, rather than actually getting things done, you're doing it wrong.
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