Some people claim that you can not run an organization without rules and force (fear). Others say that you can run an organization without bosses. Never let a fanatic to frame your problem in black or white. It is not a binary thing. There are plenty of shades between being a dictator or an anarchist.
Banking Sector. 2016. All the employees wore fancy clothes to wait for him. When he walked into the conference room, everyone stood firm. He was the boss. It was a scene more like a military situation than a 21st-century companionship. The last thing you could perceive in that room was trust. The only form of trust in that place was through fear.
They were discussing for a long time all the work they had to do during that week. The boss was involved in all matters, even the smallest details. It seemed like his team just did the wrong thing all the time. This strategic team was supposed to be in charge of all the cultural transformation within the bank.
After the meeting, the boss approached me and asked me to help them; they could no longer work in that way. He felt that his team was not growing and he had more and more work and could not cope with everything.
So I was supposed to be there to help them to work in better ways. I opened my tools bag and sought for all the agile tools that could help in this situation. It was evident to me what to use: Delegation Board.
Some people claim that you can not run an organization without rules and force (fear). Others say that you can run an organization without bosses. Never let a fanatic to frame your problem in black or white. It is not a binary thing. There are plenty of shades between being a dictator or an anarchist. My goal, in this case, was to found the right balance.
So to do that, I followed three steps towards the goal:
- Drawing the actual situation with Delegation Board
People don’t know how much they are really suffering if they don’t see the actual picture. So we started by drawing the current situation through the delegation board. We draw on the columns the seven levels of delegations (1= tell, 2= sell, 3= consult, 4= agree, 5= advise, 6= inquire, 7=delegate). Then we put on the first column all the key activities or decision areas that the team needs to operate.
After the visual analysis, It was evident to everybody that the team had a delegation problem. Despite all the arguments for both sides (boss and team), they ended up recognizing that they were suffering the self-fulfilling Prophecy Trap. When the Boss always treats people as untrustworthy, they are more likely to become untrustworthy. People always behave according to how they are treated. So it was not just a delegation problem, it was also a problem with delegation.
How to move forward? At this moment, I tried to be very careful and prepared the next stage to start a negotiation process. So I facilitated an honest conversation where they identified the pros and cons of this situation.
After figuring out this, the team was ready to talk about things that they needed to improve about delegation.
2. Define reasonable limits that allow the team to grow
Empowerment requires delegating decisions. Bosses often fear a loss of control when teams take over decision-making. Moreover, employees sometimes have no idea how to take responsibility. So you don’t have to start delegating everything. Also, it is not a good idea to delegate everything because there are things that are part of the company strategy.
So a right way to start and what we did was to define limits. What was the boss willing to delegate and what was the team willing to accept? We found the balance together.
As you can see the team was ready to assume more challenges in key decisions areas like reporting level 1, team selection and documentation compliance. The boss also was willing to give the control in almost all the areas except the prioritization change actions and budget allocation. That’s a start. Perhaps one interesting thing was the negotiation around goal setting. That was for me the crucial negotiation because it could shape the intentions of the team to grow. So level 4 (agree) was an important start.
So, How to put all of this in action?
- Don’t Stop. Make continuous investments in trust
A delegation of control should be seen as an investment. There is a transaction cost involved, and it may take a while to get a return on such an investment. The worst thing that you can do at this moment is to leave things as they are with the new agreement after the negotiations. It is necessary to keep the Delegation Board as a living artifact. To maintain a continuous revision of this delegation agreements, we defined a quarterly review where the team was able to discuss how they feel about the new challenges, how they think they perform with new responsibilities and then update the delegation board. Everybody within the team agreed. We managed the system, not the people.
We aim for a more powerful Organization.
Some people are in favor of dictatorship practices because they don’t know about the real meaning of the empowerment. Also, it is the same with people that believe that you can do whatever you want without limits (anarchist). The delegation board is a fantastic tool to explain how to reach a balance in benefit of the organization and reach reasonable agreements that enhance engagement, continuous improvement to delight your customers as an end goal.
Banking Sector. 2018. All the employees of the cultural transformation team are working together with common goals and mutual respect. There are not signals of distrust anymore. They are growing. Including the boss (even when they rolled back some minor delegate decisions). They are doing a great job in transforming their organization. Seeing in retrospective now, I realize that, in the end, my job was not to empower the team, was to empower the organization.
Image: (c) 2011, Daniel Arrhakis, Creative Commons 2.0