Why managers should play delegation poker with their teams
teamwork

Why managers should play delegation poker with their teams

If you lead a team of people, I have a question for you. Who decides what time people can come into the office?

Do you decide? And just tell everyone they need to be in by 9am? Or can staff come in whenever they like and not even mention it? Or, can they come in when they like, as long as they tell you?

Most people can answer this question, but what you might find is that your understanding of who decides what, is different to your teams view. What answers you get can depend on the topic being discussed. Teams rarely sit together and actually work out the great, big question…

Who can decide what at work?

Delegation Poker is a Management 3.0 game you play with your teams, to discover who has real authority (or thinks they do) about certain decisions. It’s a game I’ve played with teams a few times now, and it’s really interesting to see what people say.

The process works like this.

First, you download copies of the Delegation Poker playing cards. They are free if you want to download them and print them out, but you can buy some too.

You then hand out 1 deck to each player.

You write up a bunch of things that your team and manager might decide, and put it on a big piece of paper on the left hand side. Management 3.0, the company behind the deck, describes it like this.

“Start by making a list of pre-defined cases or situations in which you want to create a delegation policy, establishing who has what influence. This can range from project design and authority to hiring new team members.”

I’ll give you some real world examples.

What our goals should be?

When to come to work?

How much staff get paid

The items can be anything you like. The idea is to ask this question in a group setting, and find out from each team member, what level of delegation they have as it relates to a specific decision.

The 7 levels of delegation.

  1. Tell (The manager will decide, and just tell everyone what to do)
  2. Sell (The manager will try and sell the decision to the team, but ultimately, the manager still decides)
  3. Consult (The manager will consult with the team to get their input, but in the end, the manager decides)
  4. Agree (the manager and the staff member reach a consensus to decide)
  5. Advise (The team member decides, but the manager provides some advice)
  6. Inquire (the team member decides, but the manager might inquire about the decision and ask questions after the decision has been made)
  7. Delegate (the team member decides and the manager has no involvement at all)

It’s not to say that one is wrong, and one is right. Different decisions will require different approaches. But you will find most teams will aspire to delegate more than the current situation.

How to play

So you ask a question of the team, and everyone at once pulls out the card they most thinks represent the level of delegation that’s going on.

You take the highest and lowest scoring participants, and have them elaborate on why they think the way they do.

These discussions flesh out where the miscommunication might be. You can talk about areas perhaps you haven’t been very clear about, and reinforce times when teams could take more autonomy and decide things on their own.

Teams then take the averages of the level of delegation, and stick these cards on the sheet of paper like so.

This document (which works great on a wall at the office) can serve a few purposes.

First, it shows everyone on the team where the current reality is when it comes to delegation. It might not be where you want it to be as a manager, but it highlights the current state.

Second, it can serve as a talking point for those who struggle to make decisions on their own. Sometimes team members might feel uncomfortable deciding what their own goals should be. When talking about goal setting, you might refer to the game, saying that for this decision, you want to move to #6 Inquire. You want them to decide what the goals should be, but you’ll enquire about it later. But in the end, they decide.

And lastly, it can serve as inspiration for managers who simply aren’t delegating enough. You might realise that you need to start letting go a lot more. And the board can serve as a reminder to that objective.

Impacting clarity

Often managers and teams are on different pages when it comes to who can decide what. Through the game, teams discover that things they are supposedly allowed to decide for themselves, are actually decided by the manager.

Take for instance, a designer thinking they are responsible for how a new website might look. They might have sat down with their manager, who said the designer can come up with a design all on their own. The designer gets really fired up about it, puts heaps of work into it, and comes up with a design they really love.

Then, at the 11th hour, the manager comes along and says to make everything more blue, and to change the layout a bit.

So who really decides here?

The designer becomes disempowered, and disgruntled because they thought they had more autonomy than they thought. They thought they could decide how it looked. If the manager was going to decide in the end, why did the designer spend all this time going off and doing things their way?

When the cards flip over during the game, it can be a real aha moment for managers who think they are delegating but aren’t doing it very well. Managers often have an elevated sense of their management capabilities. Most think they are better at delegating than they really are. But by being confronted with what everyone thinks in a non-hostile way, they can come to some hard realisations – they are perhaps, not letting go enough.


Creating the worlds best teams is not easy. But one method that helps is to give your teams an easy way to identify and discuss the problems that are slowing them down. OHNO automates that process by finding all the issues on the front lines, and displaying it in a way that’s easy to use. Give it a try.

Comment (1)

  1. download
    June 18, 2019

    You’ve made some really good points there.
    I checked on the web for more information about the issue and found most people will go along with your views on this site.

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