No team member should be indispensable


No team member should be indispensable. That’s a *team* problem, not an individual’s problem.


The above is a quote from a LinkedIn discussion.

It  was related to the availability of a team member during a Sprint phase in a Scrum project, but not just for projects, but any situation where there is a group of individuals working together as a team.

It really captured what I’ve tried to portray in an earlier post – What secret agents can teach us about Project Teams“.

The Risks of having an Indispensable Team Member

Team members should not be indispensable. That’s a given.

If a specific team member leaves then you have the risk of a gap in knowledge.

This knowledge gap might be temporary, but you still risk:

Team member - loss of productivityA loss in productivity

(“We can’t get that finished until we find someone who can program in ABC.NET”)


Angry ClientA drop in client confidence

(“What do you mean that no-one else knows how your company set up my system?!!”)


frustrated team memberTrying to work out how your product has been put together

(“John hasn’t left any documentation as to how he built this. We’re not even sure where the source code is.”)


And any of these can have a big impact on moral, and success of a company.

What you can do to ensure that knowledge gap doesn’t happen

Some ways to prevent this knowledge gap from happening include:

1. Backup Person –

team member - backup personDefine primary roles for each team member. This is what that person is responsible for. At the same time, give the team member a secondary role. The secondary role is the same as another team member’s primary role, but not as in-depth.

This can be achieved through giving two people the same training. One person uses the knowledge as part of their primary role. For the other person, the knowledge is for “just in case”.

Allow the backup person to shadow the primary a couple of times per year to maintain awareness of what is involved.

2. Standard Methodologies

standardsHaving a standard way of doing something is also a good way to prevent a loss of knowledge.

This can include:

SOPs (Standards of Practice) – documented steps and procedures that outline either how certain activities need to be done, or what protocol needs to be followed in specific situations.

SOPs tend to be company specific. They are written, and maintained, in-house, and can include training.

Professional Standards – Often, in specific industries or specific professions, there are defined “best practices”. These can be thought of as guidelines in how activities related to that industry, or profession, can be performed.

These “best practices”, and standards, can often be incorporated at a company, with slight modifications depending on the specific situation.

3. Knowledge Capture and Sharing

knowledge sharingA lot of knowledge that people have has come about through experience with the situation or product.

This is referred to as tacit knowledge.

While it is often challenging to force people to write down what they know, there are ways that the tacit knowledge can be captured and shared. These include:

  • Have an environment that encourages people to share. – Regular get-togethers in an informal situation.
  • Social rewards for recording what they do (you call even call this a type of gamification).
  • Strong messages – show how the company and the individual both grow if they share knowledge, rather than keep it to themselves.

For a great read on what more can be done with tacit knowledge, check out “Better Knowledge-Sharing: Fill The Dry Knowledge Well With These Practices


As discussed above, there is a risk of having key people in the team that are indispensable. if that person leaves or is absent there can be a direct impact on the success of a company.

By implementing a few of the steps listed above, this risk and the corresponding impact, can be greatly reduced.


Want to learn more?

Below is a selection of resources that I personally feel are relevant to this blog post, and will allow you to get more in-depth knowledge. I do earn a commission if you purchase any of these, and for that I am grateful. Thank you. (Important Disclosure)

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