Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Empowering Delegation

My buddy, Tom Looy, shared this article with me:
In it, Stephen Bungay provides a historical basis for suggesting that delegation by communicating the intention (as opposed to dictating approach and tactic) is a far more powerful way to delegate.

Bungay notes:
  • you cannot anticipate the unforeseeable; to attempt this false precision can result in demoralization, original guidance becoming misguidance;
  • as delegation occurs, each level should add only the amount of detail they can actually provide, no more;
  • prefer delegation in person;
  • at each delegation, the superior verifies by requesting an action plan from the subordinate.
  • delegation comes in the form of Auftrag: a task and a purpose; Bungay refers to this as "direct opportunism"
Mission Command

The essences of this approach:

  • vision is shared from top-to-bottom; alignment of strategy
  • action is contextualized; tactics are appropriate for the situation
  • all levels enjoy an appropriate autonomy (and therefore have a chance to enjoy a sense of ownership)

He suggests the following practices:

  • decide what really matters -- use what knowledge is available to you (experience + known circumstances); don't extend plans beyond what you can clearly see.
  • get the message across -- hand down goals and rationale; then request a plan.
  • give people space and support -- set boundaries that prevent disaster and allow all else.
  • This is a fine way of expressing the tension between autonomy and alignment.
  • This approach assumes that you can get alignment of strategy.  That you can achieve a shared vision.
    • Do this in part by not just handing down strategy, but contextualize as much as is feasible.
  • You have to really figure out how to express the right boundaries:
    • can a developer introduce a new architecture component?
    • can an architect decide how scalable the site should be?
  • This approach gets complicated when the subordinate is less experienced (usually the case?); this is how the organization develops and learns.
    • this is the nuts and bolts of growth: can you mentor/coach without taking over?
    • perhaps this is the practical way of identifying boundaries; initially leave it open to anything, have regular reviews and adjust.
      • include some guidance as to when a review should happen immediately? (e.g. when changing a fundamental approach or introducing a new technique or changing a project process)
(todo: include an example)

No comments:

Post a Comment