Photo by Sebastian Ahmed (Kangaroo Island Australia 2008)

Unpacking Delegation — Part 4

Lets take a quick look at the ground we have covered so far:

  • In Part 1 we introduced the key myths and then defined delegation as a user-story
  • In Part 2 we provided a means to find fulfilment in mutating our sense of control to one of support and influence
  • In Part 3 we replaced the notion of trying to clone ourselves with instead seeking out and finding motivated people

In this part we will cover three things. First, we clarify the term Leader. Second, we look at chain-stagnation resulting from ineffective delegation. Third, we look at a very powerful concept — delegating-out, which formulates the debunking of two of our myths introduced in Part 1.

Clarifying “Leadership”

Image Credit: Google

Leadership can and should come from anywhere. It is not some pre-ordained right for those in management positions. In the previous posts, I did not make this sufficiently clear. So, let us state that

Managers must be leaders, but leaders need not be managers.

This still does not mean that managers are assumed to be leaders. They must act in ways that makes them leaders. For the purposes of this delegation topic, let us define leadership as the

consistent acts of spearheading ideas and directions that lead the larger collective team to better outcomes in a fulfilling and sustainable way.

I say fulfilling and sustainable because taking a team to a “victory” which ends up costing the team dearly, is not leadership.

This means that leaders are often individual contributors. Technical leads and architects for example are great examples of job-roles which require strong leadership. But any individual on a team can provide leadership by this definition. A more junior engineer who consistently leads may over time become a technical lead and later move into an architecture or management role. As they progress, the leadership property becomes an expectation and duty.


Image Credit: Google

Teams that are “stagnant” may be busy teams. They may be considered as functioning because they do get product out in reasonable timeframes and with good quality. Such a team is also likely full of hard-working and dedicated humans.

How would you detect a stagnant team?

This requires a measure over a sufficient time interval (a year or more) and observation of three things:

  • A lack of innovation of productwhat they do
  • A lack of evolution of processhow they do it
  • The inability to attract and retain high-performing peoplewho does it

Even though a lack of effective delegation can lead to stagnation of teams, it is not the only mode. There may simply be no new ideas in which case there is nothing to delegate. We will focus on the scenario where there are indeed ideas around. To highlight the role of delegation in the context of mitigation against team stagnation, I would put forth that

delegation enables the movement and progression of ideas into actions creating value along the way

This is far more effective than just sharing an idea or information. This is about transferring ownership of the “thing” to another person who in turn may expand the “thing” and delegate further. This can be a chain effect and at each part of the chain, new value is created. Note how the human at the “root” of the delegation chain of the “thing” now starts looking at new ideas. Delegation allows flow and movement.

Without delegation, actions are not able to flow through the team, and we end up with bottlenecks (at those not delegating), leaving the team deprived of opportunities to add value (this is an opportunity-cost effect). The whole “machine” seizes, and we end up stagnant, because:

  • Innovation — Ideas do not manifest into actions and outputs. An idea alone does not constitute innovation, it needs to manifest.
  • Processes — This is essentially the same mode of failure as innovation but manifests itself in development inefficiencies. Maybe a leader would like to have a process improved, but fails to properly delegate because of a limiting belief that he or she alone should do it.
  • People — This can be subjective, but from my experience, stagnant teams have a certain “feel” about them. Status quo typically reigns supreme. High-performance humans do not last long in such teams. They are typically the highly-motivated individuals we discussed and thrive as delegates of high-value “things”. As such they will seek teams that have a culture of delegation.

What can be done when there is a team where leaders are not effectively delegating resulting in stagnation?

The key point in the previous statement about the measure is observation. Someone must be able to observe the “what”, “how” and “who” in both objective and subjective terms.

Someone with sufficient authority and influence must be able to say “we can have a better normal”

I say sufficient “authority and influence” because I want this person to help the leader of the stagnant team.


Image Credit: Google

This is now a great segue into expanding your delegation horizon. Here we will crush two myths and provide remedies to stagnating teams.

Delegating-out is the analog of the managing-out concept which anyone who reads on the topic of leadership has surely come across.

Delegating-out involves entrusting and enabling someone outside of your immediate organization with the “thing” of high-value (that you are passionate about). This act requires seeing the big picture. It requires,

seeing “your team” as something beyond the confines of an organizational structure.

If this is a thing you are truly passionate about, it is going to take a serious amount of mutating the trichotomy of control as discussed in Part 2. I get that, and it took me a long time (well into my tenure of leadership) that this is in fact one of the most powerful avenues to make innovation and people thrive. This is probably the aspect of delegation I am focusing on the most these days.

Let us now crush those myths.

Myth #2 : My team is super-busy, mission accomplished

Maybe they are now busy as the result of successful delegation. But this is still no excuse to stall your idea funnel. Look beyond your “team” to get your ideas into action.

Myth #3: I can only delegate to people in “my team”

No leader should be ashamed of having this belief. Organizational boundaries, imperfect reward systems and politics create conditions leading to this belief. Recall in Part 3, the seeking out of a highly-motivated person. Look around the larger organization or company. You will find those people. Talk to them, talk to their managers and you may occasionally find a match which results not only in your idea or “thing” progressing into action, but it may provide a much needed opportunity for that person to thrive.

It should thus be obvious that one way to help address the team-stagnation problem is to actually seek out such teams and work with the leader of such a team to identify opportunities for new ideas. This could be a spark that gets the delegation flow into action. Give them real meaningful things of value to own and if necessary, provide help from your own team. Cross-team projects can start this way. So in summary,

delegating-out happens if your goals are big enough.

It goes back to the “why” in the user-story, and the scope thereof. If your goals go beyond yourself and even your immediate team, then delegating-out makes a lot of sense and will lead to expanding the scope of the thriving of innovation and people.



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