How to make the Delegation Board work for your team

by Sarika Kharbanda

Thanks to Jurgen Appelo, author of Management 3.0 and Managing for Happiness, I learnt the technique Delegation Board. With Key Decision Areas on the Vertical and the seven levels of delegation on the horizontal axis, to me it serves as a visible, transparent matrix structure agreement between people. I’ve now used it with my agile teams allowing them to move towards empowerment, but at the same time within boundaries and not nearing chaos (a myth that many traditional managers have). I’ve also experimented with the Delegation Board with my partners and senior management — and to my pleasant surprise it has been very welcome.

What are the Seven Levels of Delegation?

These seven levels are broken down as follows, with each team member revealing their own perception of the Key Decision Areas as follows:

  1. Tell: You as the Manager make the decision
  2. Sell: You make the decision but you try to persuade others to buy into it
  3. Consult: You get input from team before still making decision
  4. Agree: You make a decision together as a team
  5. Advise: Your team makes the decision, but you try to influence it
  6. Inquire: Your team makes the decision and then tells you about it
  7. Delegate: You offer no influence and let the team work it out

When I first learnt about the Delegation Board and successfully tried this out with my own team, I was super-excited to take this to other agile teams that could benefit from it.

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As a coach to one of the Scrum teams that I knew would get a boost from it and also knowing the continued friction between this Scrum team and their managers, I decided to introduce this to everyone over a free lunch-and-learn session. What did that lead to — the expected — some speculation, good questions and answers, and the need for a follow-up in-person session for the managers (without the team members being present).

As a next step, I did two things.

  1. As the Scrum team was quite keen to do this, they asked if they could initiate to create a first draft of the Delegation Board and perhaps at least brainstorm on some Key Decision Areas. And in the meantime, once their Coach (me) persuaded their managers on this amazing technique, the team would be ready by then to share this Key Decision Areas list with the managers. Of course we agreed that was a smart way forward.
  2. Then I had a one-to-multiple session with the managers, helping them understand that delegation was not about them losing control. We also worked on them understanding what it meant for them as managers and how it benefited their transformation into the agile world. Of course they had already googled up on Jurgen Appelo, visited the Management 3.0 website and read up a bit on the Delegation Board and Delegation Poker, but did need more convincing.

So then it was time for them to see this kind of self-organization in action.
The team was ready with its first draft of the board of Key Decision Areas that included:

  • Selection of Tool – Project Management
  • Selection of Tool – Dev and Test Stack
  • Core Working Hours and Holidays
  • Global Team Governance
  • Hardware procurement
  • Release planning
  • Collaboration across upstream and downstream partners / teams – internal/external
  • Team events planning and budgets
  • and a handful more

We then brought out a Flipchart paper, put these key areas to the left side in a column using Post-Its and put out the array of seven delegation levels across the top.

With some managers persuaded, while some were still skeptical, I did manage to bring everyone together in the session with the following objectives:

  1. Agree on the delegation level for the already identified Key Decision Areas (using Delegation Poker) and
  2. Add / remove any Decision Areas we together didn’t agree on

How did we play Delegation Poker?

  1. Each player (in this case, members of both the Scrum team and the management team) was given a deck of seven Delegation Poker Cards each.
  2. A person picked a Key Decision Area and talked about the details around that area
  3. Each player chose one of the seven delegation cards privately, thinking and reflecting on how he / she would delegate the decision in that particular situation.
  4. When all players were ready with their decision, they revealed their hands.
  5. The players with the highest and lowest cards explained the reasoning behind their selection.

If there was no consensus yet after Step 5, then Steps 3 through 5 were repeated until consensus was gained and the whole team picked another Key Decision Area with Step 2.

The outcome made the Delegation Board look like this. Later the managers included  two additional Key Decision Areas.

Learning and actions:

  1. Clear increase in the team’s ability to deliver with clear boundaries
  2. Transparent and collaborative agreements set the foundation to openness and building trust
  3. Collaboration with transparency strengthened
  4. Trust improved over time
  5. Greater insight into decision-making and boundaries
  6. Managers started to understand how this was not at all about losing control
  7. Together they stopped thinking of each other as team and manager, but instead collaborated as One team on the conflicting Decision Areas. If any doubts / questions, they were brought up openly in weekly meets.
  8. This empowerment was now viewed to be a reflexive relationship between both managers and the team
  9. In terms of next actions, 
    1. The managers now want to take this up for use / experiment with their supervisors and perhaps 1 Vendor. And they invited the Coach (me) to help! 
    2. The team is taking it to the next level by building a Delegation board with their Product Owner.

Have you used the Delegation Board? Or another tool to clarify roles and influence? Share your experience in the comments below! 

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