Larger projects often have a pool of team members that can take on similar tasks. Collaboration and teamwork are cornerstones of such endeavors.
In the software industry, for example, this would mean working on the same codebase. Anyone can jump in to add a feature, fix a bug, or make an improvement.
Team members need to have overlapping skills. Still, over time, we end up knowing more about a certain topic than other colleagues.
Maybe I'm the only one who reviewed the Ansible scripts that were written by someone who left the company.
You're the person who researched and chose a certain database for the project while it was starting.
Or there's someone who is close to team leads for other projects and knows how changes to their APIs will affect us before anyone else is aware of it.
Eventually, there will an expert in one subject matter or another in every team. Depending on their contribution level, they might be considered indispensable.
When it comes to getting things done at work, however, we are all replaceable. Unless there are security measures keeping people out, given time and dedication, other colleagues will eventually figure out what needs to be done. Or the company might hire an expert.
The problem can be solved without you, without me, and even without that person that seems to know it all.
Being replaceable is usually not a compliment. But it could be. The way we go about the information we gather at a company can impact our lives inside and outside of work.
Let's look at what speaks for the beauty of being replaceable in a team.
If there's a culture of making information available by applying good teamwork and facilitating collaboration, colleagues get along better.
Sharing knowledge increases trust inside the team, be it through peer review, pair programming, discussions or other ways of cooperating. If others welcome and answer our questions, it's ok to say we don't know something.
Trust is an essential component for a good dynamic between team members. In a study that examines 6 models of team performance, trust came up in each one of them.
Every now and then, there will be something that needs to be fixed immediately. If you're the only one who knows how to do it, you might be jumpy if you take a day off.
Or you want to plan a vacation and it doesn't get approved because a release is planned and you're the only one who knows how to do it.
If you take measures to have someone in the team that can deal with events that fall under your area of expertise, your chances of having a quiet day off or getting a vacation increase tremendously.
Ensuring the information is available doesn't only distribute technical knowledge among team members. It also boosts soft skills in the workplace, like:
Communication - knowledge needs to be transmitted somehow. Even if a team member struggles with teaching or learning, the other party will ensure the message gets across in the end.
Conflict management - Sometimes it requires more than persistence to ensure we understand what someone with a different knowledge background means.
Proactivity - team members proactively identify topics where redundancy is needed and take initiative to share their knowledge.
The list could go on.
If knowledge is shared, the project has more stability and the individual team members aren't put under so much pressure, as would be the case if there are single points of failure.
There are several strategies to ensure the project stays solid even if team members are missing. Here are some ways of sharing information to lower the bus factor.
Once we accept that the work world keeps turning without us, maybe we feel small.
However, we studied, struggled, hopefully, succeeded or at least gained insight about a topic.
Knowing others can benefit from that effort makes that time investment more worthwhile!
At work, when there's a team involved, there will be people that are more specialized or knowledgeable in certain topics. If there's a culture of making information available by applying good teamwork and facilitating collaboration, the project will run more smoothly.
It doesn't mean we aren't unique. At work, as in our personal lives, our personality is still ✨ one of a kind ✨ But when it comes to getting work done in a team, there's so much to gain by being replaceable.
Outside work, we're absolutely and unequivocally irreplaceable.