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Lead with Purpose: A Guide to Delegation

Headshot - Randall Dunigan
Randall Dunigan
Principal Consultant

April 24, 2024 | 5 Minute Read

Imagine you've been given a promotion. Finally, your hard work has been noticed and rewarded! The new promotion might bring more autonomy, more responsibility, a seat at the table (so to speak), or hopefully a higher salary. One thing it is sure to bring is more work.  But you’ve already been working your butt off to get to this point and you’re just one person. Without the ability to clone yourself, something's going to have to give.  

Maybe you can spend more time doing things on the weekends or after work? People depend on you, after all, and even more depend on you now. That might work for a while, but eventually, you are going to burn out and no one is going to be getting your best. Besides, you can only do so much after hours. No, burning the candle at both ends and the secret third end is not going to cut it.

What about good old-fashioned prioritization? You will simply work on the most important stuff because your time is limited, after all. Surely people will understand when you tell them you are too busy for their stuff. No. That's not going to work either because you want to be seen as a capable leader, not some seized-up cog in the corporate machine. 

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This is where delegation comes into play. Not only will delegating let off some of the pressure, but it could also make your people more autonomous and empowered. However, it's not that easy because not everyone can do what you do. There's a reason you were promoted! But what if your team can do some of the work? You can train some of them to reduce risk as well as give you some breathing room. It could also help eliminate you as a bottleneck.  Now where do you start when it comes to this delegation process? 

As already stated, there's a reason you got promoted. Not everyone can do what you do. But, if we're being honest, some of what you do isn't exactly rocket science. So, now you need to pinpoint the easier tasks that you do in order to give them to someone else and there are a few ways to find those opportunities.

How to Figure Out What to Delegate

One-Way vs Two-Way Door Approach

On one of my favorite podcasts (The No Nonsense Agile Podcast), Murray and Shane interviewed Ryan Lysne who is a product director at Amazon. He shared the one-way vs two-way door approach. The idea is that a one-way door is a decision whose outcome is not easily or quickly reversed, hence the potential risk of an error would be much more long-lived and impactful.

A two-way door is one that you can immediately go back through if you don't like how it looks on the other side. A decision that is easily or quickly reversed would be considered a two-way door. The reversibility reduces the potential risk of delegating to potentially less experienced people. If something goes wrong, you can switch it back with little trouble. 

Scraped Knees vs Broken Bones
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I have the privilege of working with some of the best agile trainers in the business at Improving. One thing I learned from a trainer and friend, Blake McMillan, is the concept of scraped knees vs broken bones. If I let one of my team members take on a challenge, are they likely to scrape their knees or break a bone if they take a fall?

Scraped knees indicate a low-risk endeavor. Recovery would be easy, and maybe they’d even get to learn a valuable lesson along the way. But broken bones mean serious injury. If you have kids, you probably have experienced a moment when you realized they are headed for potential disaster. Just like in parenting, it's probably best to not risk it. (They can try out chainsaw juggling in their teenage years.) So, keep your people from breaking bones, but if a scraped knee is the only thing at stake, maybe this is an opportunity to delegate. 

Delegation Poker

If you want something a bit more collaborative, I've got you. There is a great exercise by Management 3.0 called delegation poker. The way this works is you first gather up all the members of your team. You then discuss what factors contribute to deciding whether or not to delegate a work item. Some of these factors include ability, knowledge, risk, accountability within the organization, and frequency. You then collect all the activities that the team needs to complete their work from documenting to validation.

Once you have this sample set of tasks, you rate each of these from one to seven on the delegation poker scale. One equals no delegation, where you are just telling them what to do. Then it goes all the way to seven, where you would be fully delegating the work to them. This is a valuable thing to do as a group, as it surfaces misconceptions and makes expectations clear.

Now you know how to get started! But it is not the end of the journey. Sure, delegating responsibilities will buy you some breathing room, but it's not all you get. You also have to motivate your people. We know from Dan Pink's book, Drive, that people are motivated when they have autonomy, mastery, and purpose. This is a win-win. You get some breathing room, and they get some autonomy. Plus, you’ll get better performance as well.  

Additionally, you get to train up future leaders and mentor them in a tangibly impactful way. With this knowledge sharing, we also get reduced risk and alleviate bottlenecks. It's definitely worth your time and I hope you give it a shot. If you want help figuring out how to navigate delegation, especially through Agile techniques, reach out to us or reserve your spot in one of our training courses.


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