In my work I get to see a lot of teams. Or, more accurately, I get to see a lot of groups of people who think they’re teams, or who other folks choose to call “teams”.

Nothing speaks to me quite so loudly or clearly about the teaminess of a group as their willingness to go to bat for each other. To commit their own individual time and effort on helping their teammates with their issues, and on advancing the progress and interests of the team, at the expense of their own egos, and synergising the needs and interests of the team with their own individual needs and personal interests.

Given the rarity of this phenomenon, small wonder then that the Amanuensarian is a role rarely seen in the wild.

The Amanuensarian Role

In a recent blog post describing an effective group workshop, I introduced the term “Amanuensarian”. This is a portmanteau term derived from the conjunction of “Amanuensis” and Cybrarian“.

noun (pl) -ses
A person employed to take dictation or to copy manuscripts
Origin: C17: from Latin āmanuensis, from the phrase servus ā manū slave at hand (that is, handwriting)

In this context, the amanuensis’ role is focused on writing down or otherwise recording stuff to which he, she, or the team, believe they might need to refer later.

A librarian who uses computers and the Internet for their work; any person who works doing online research and information retrieval, esp. one who answers reference questions online; also called data surfers, super searchers
Origin: cyber- ‘cybernetics’ + (li)brarian

In this context, the cybrarian role is focused on understanding the team’s needs for information, on finding that information, and on bringing it back and sharing with the team, possibly recording it for future reference, too.


Key skills for the amanuensarian role include:

  • Ability to understand and anticipate folks’ information, sharing and reference needs.
  • Ability to understand the goals of the groups and the information required to address those goals.
  • Facility with search, recording, and sharing tools and technologies.
  • Ability to invent new ways of searching, recording and sharing information, tailored to the people at hand.
  • Google-fu.
  • Ability to coordinate team-related information with other teams and groups across the whole organisation, and value network too.


I find the presence of the role of amanuensarian a great bellwether for the teaminess of a group of people. Teams sharing common goals, and working together towards these goals.

“The purpose of a team is not goal attainment but goal alignment.”

~ Tom DeMarco, Peopleware

The amanuensarian role is all about attending to the (information and time-binding) needs of both the team as a whole and the individuals therein, and downplaying their own ambitions for the good of the fellowship of the team.

Any group of knowledge-work people will have a pressing and ongoing need for information on a host of topics. Finding such information, and moreover sharing it effectively, is a skill – and a task – in itself. People can undertake the task for themselves, and build their skills as they go, or the amanuensarian role can smooth the path and allow the rest of the team to focus on their own matters of import.

For a mental image, I think of Gandalf, galloping halfway across Middle Earth to seek out information concerning the One Ring – information vital to Frodo and subsequently to the mission of the Fellowship as a whole.

And where would any team be, without folks who seek out and hold their lore?

– Bob

Further Reading

Peopleware ~ Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister
Principles of Software Engineering Management ~ Tom Gilb


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