Delegation is Freedom and Empowerment
Updated: Jun 5, 2022
Why Do Managers Need To Delegate?
Are you a blocker for your team, while they wait for you to do something, decide on something and you're too busy to get to it?
Are your teammates "not proactive enough" and you must make decisions they could make on their own?
Do you want to empower your team, but not sure how?
Perhaps you need to learn to empower others and free yourself, in this non-zero-sum game - "Delegation Poker" and the "Delegation Board", a useful Management 3.0 practice. It's easy to implement and you can use it with a new team, or an existing team, to discover how this explicit approach speeds up mutual trust, empowers the team and the manager.
Steps To Play
How does it work? I've been mostly using the Delegation Board, and the drill is simple:
Find a key decision area that matters to the team, for example "how do we decide who to add to the team/hire?"
Each teammate get a set of 7 cards, with varying levels of delegation:
Tell - the lowest level of trust, the manager's telling people what do to
Sell - the manager's trying to convince, if it fails, she still decides
Consult - the manager asks for opinions, and makes the final decision
Agree - if there's no agreement on a course of action, it doesn't happen, both team and manager are on equal footing
Advise - the manager is advising the team on a course of action before the team makes the call
Inquire - the manager's asking "why/how did you decide to do X?", after the team makes the call
Delegate - the manager is trusting the team on both the action and the reason behind it
The teammates and the manager pick a card to reflect current state in this decision area, everyone reveals them at the same time and you tally up the votes (perhaps ignoring the lone standout, as the official practice suggests).
Note and discuss the difference between the manager's point of view and the team's even about current state. You may find already at this point the manager is willing to move further than the team thought (or perhaps wants to...)
The team and the manager agree on a current state
Should be easy, but if there's disagreement the other way, i.e. teammates think they decide/do this, but the manager believes it's her call, a discussion should ensue. We definitely don't want to regress team autonomy (with direction), so why the gap in perception?
You then repeat the vote for the desired state, with the team calling for a change (or not, that's worth discussing), and the manager expressing how far they would go.
Note the gap between the two, and make a call, as a manager.
Are you willing to move to the direction the team wants? If so, great. Make a commitment to this change, for a month, or 2 weeks (depending on the frequency of decisions made in the area).
If not, explain why you're not willing to move in the direction and perhaps you'll find that with some simple constraints, you'd be willing to agree.
If it's an absolute no go, explain why, and revisit this area again later. Perhaps decisions made in other areas will earn the trust you need to move in the problematic area. At worst, you've had an open discussion about something which would have otherwise remained under the surface.
Repeat with a new key decision area, until you have a solid map of all such areas on the delegation board
In most business scenarios, the level of initial control for a manager is Tell or Sell, Consult at best, for key decision areas that matter. Some teams have explicit levels of authority (e.g. it's stated in your work contract who and how decides when you may go on paid vacation), but for the most part, organizations still expect the manager to manage the team to their best judgement.
This is why, in this initial scenario, it's fully the manager's call to give additional trust in certain areas, in a transparent way, empowering the team and freeing themselves.
Common Objections To Delegation
Here are some common approaches you may have encountered, or had yourself, to delegation:
You could be cynical and say "What am I delegating? My "dirty work"? Who'd want that? These decisions don't matter"
You could only say that, because you forgot that beginner's mind feeling, when someone asks for your attendance at an important meeting. The amount of possibilities that arise from such a show of trust, or ability to influence is immense. “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
The delegated decision areas may involve more or less work, but it's all managerial responsibility you're currently doing yourself, which not only takes up your time, but holds you in place, not allowing you to move on and learn new skills.
If it's not attractive, or the team doesn't want to take on more responsibility, they'll tell you. In fact, the very exposure of key decision areas via discussion with the team leads to a better mutual understanding. If teams don't want to participate in the process of hiring/adding new teammates, you have a lot of room for additional discussions.
You could say "Why should I delegate? People aren't ready for the responsibility of doing X [where X is a part of my current job that I consider vital to be done by me, at this point]?" or "How can I trust them to decide on Y by themselves?"
It doesn't have to be the core of your current role. The best part of delegation poker is finding out which areas your teammates wish to have more say in. The wide range of 7 levels of delegation takes care of the fine tuning of the degree to which you're willing to delegate at each point.
You'd be surprised by how people other than you view your role, but also by what amount of delegation is sufficient to both empower others (so they in turn can move up and on, if they choose to) and to free yourself (not only timewise, but mentally). Notice how at each step you're not losing anything - your initial goal was to have more focus time, acquire new skills, become a better leader - having an excellent team that would follow you through hell and high water, as empowered professionals, is the highest degree of honor you could have - from peers, not from superiors.
Finally, you learn to trust by moving from "Tell" to "Delegate" and the stages in between. You commit to a period, in a high-integrity effort, and you check the results. It's transparently shown on the board, and once it moves to Delegate, it feels like a huge achievement for both sides involved - the manager's trust was justified, and the team gained autonomy (with direction, but more on constraint alignment in a different post) in another area.
Eventually, you'll see that the initial point in each key decision area was simply a not very smart default.
As a manager, my journey from Tell to Delegate was very much an journey of giving up on illusions of control, and seeing the empowering effect it has on a team. We eventually reached a state where teammates decided on who gets hired and added to the team, hiring the best Scrum Master I've ever worked with, my "partner in crime" for ScrumDayUA 2021, Kyrylo Sitnikov. I am sure we could have done more, however, seeing the practice successfully implemented even once was inspiring. Most other companies I've worked for haven't had this explicit show of trust from management, and no recourse on delegation of responsibility in an open and honest way, that involved the entire team. Give it a go, or talk to me for more information. The Delegation Board should be a part of your work space, whether physical, or virtual, a constant reminder of the agreements made and the responsibility yet to be gained.