I was asked to run a training for twelve managers on the topic “Leading over distance”. This is what has emerged during the briefing: 

  • an organizational culture mostly focused on “plan and control”
  • a manager mindset mainly oriented on micromanagement 
  • extreme difficulties in chartering a smart working pilot project

I have decided to use an agile management 3.0 tool: delegation poker. My challenging aim was to convey the idea that even in a plan and control paradigm there was some space to use delegation in a very progressive and “controlled” way. I know it could sounds very awkward to many of you. But eventually it worked. It was like introducing a young child to something he/she initially was afraid of based on his/her preconceptions. 

In remote working the ability to delegate is essential. It was essential for these managers too. The crucial point was trying to find a way so that they could look at it in terms of a useful, and not “menacing”, management tool.  

In many other previous trainings what participants were told was basically this: “delegation is good”. But considering their culture what they really needed was to be guided “hand in hand” on how to use the art of delegation with their employees.

Since participants were managers with different roles and functions I have decided to introduce five cases relatively generic so that all of them could identify themselves with those cases, adding personal experiences. Before discussing the cases I have introduced participants to the seven levels of delegation as described by J.Appelo that you cand find here

Here are three of the five cases proposed:  

  1. It is time for the annual performance evaluation. During this meeting you will have to define your employee goals. In your opinion which is the best level of delegation to use for this task? 
  2. A client has sent you an email complaining about the frequent delay of the work of one of your employees. In your opinion which is the best level of delegation to use in dealing with this situation?
  3. It is time to make a decision regarding the chance to explore new markets. In your opinion which is the best level of delegation for discussing this topic with your team? 

I divided participants in two teams and I gave delegation cards to each member. Taking turns everyone has read a case. All team members could add something to it in order to better contextualize it. Since delegation is context-dependent, having in mind a clear picture of the context is very important.

Each participants picked the card that indicated the most appropriate level of delegation for the case presented. A group discussion followed. After this, people have had two minutes to vote again the “right” level of delegation they would have chosen. After this second round those who have chosen the highest level but represent a minority, didn’t get any point. While others could get points according to the level of delegation chosen.

The core of the exercise was coming to realize, in a safe place like the session training, that although they were all belonging to the same company, immersed in the same organizational culture – plan and control, there were managers who choose high level of delegation. They came to realize that there were different ways to promote internal accountability and engagement in employees. 

Participants have had also a chance to experience the fact that delegation is not a binary thing but a management tool full of “shades of gray”. In other terms, it was only by taking them by their hands that they could face their preconceptions about delegation and see that they could use it in a gradually less controlled way.

What this experience thought me is to keep relying on my “gut”. After the briefing I was not so sure about using this management 3.0 tool within this group of managers. But as soon as I get into the session, I have had the feeling that for all of us this would have been a challenging experience and at the same time a very useful one. And this is how it went…luckily!


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