Letting go of decisions

When building self-organizing teams, one of the hardest things for their (former?) managers is to pass power on to the team. Power as in “the possibility, ability and duty to take decisions”. If you pass a decision on, you have to let go of your “solution”. There are infinite solutions out there. Don’t expect the team to pick the exact same one that you would have picked. The chances are rather slim.

Unfortunately this is how I sometimes see it go down:

Manager thinks: “The solution is obvious. But I’m supposed to empower them, so I can’t just tell them what to do.”

Manager to team: “It’s your decision. Figure It out. You can do it.”

Team goes and figures it out.

Team to manager animatedly: “Look, here’s our solution :)”

Manager: “Umm, no. No, it ain’t. <Some leading questions> It’s your decision. Figure It out.”

Team goes and figures it out. Again.

Team warily: “Sooo. Here’s our solution attempt.”

Manager: “Umm, wouldn’t it make sense to … <Some more leading questions>”

“Together” they arrive at a new solution.
The team is quietly steaming.

This is the opposite of empowerment. Having to reverse engineer a fixed solution by trial and error is painful, disheartening and teaches a terrible lesson. As someone who used to be on the receiving end of this, I’d love for the manager to just straight out say what they want. They are the boss. It’s okay for them to dictate the solution, if there’s no wriggle room. But making teams guess over 3 rounds, because they don’t want to dictate a solution? That achieves the opposite of want they intended. Plus, they blur the line. It becomes harder for teams to tell when they really own the solution and when they secretly don’t.

Sometimes the solution mismatch stems from the manager having more information than the team. If you’re part of the team, strive to become good at asking questions about constraints.

If you’re the manager pass information on to your team as soon as you notice they’re missing. If it’s classified information, you probably shouldn’t pass that particular decision on to the team.

And check out Delegation Poker. It can help managers and teams figure out, how much power is really conveyed for each pending decision.

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