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Guiding principles for decision making using delegation poker and boards-EN

Picture of Miquel Rodríguez

Miquel Rodríguez

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Delegating has historically been a task assigned to “bosses”. It is also one of those chores that is easier said than done. There is a saying in Catalan that translates literally to: “If you want to be well cared for, make your own bed.” Or, roughly, “If you want everything to be to your liking, do it yourself.” On many occasions this is true, but if we always approach our work (and life) with this mantra, we will spend all our time “making the bed” instead of on other activities that add value.

Empowerment: Urgent vs Important

In his famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey popularized the Eisenhower Decision Matrix (aka Urgent vs. Important). The matrix is based on a principal that often guided the former President when he was proposing the delegation of urgent and important activities: “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”

decision matrix

But delegation isn’t “all or nothing.” It is not about passing something on to someone else and forgetting about it. It is not something that can be done overnight. There are some models that offer practices for delegating, such as Hersey and Blanchard’s situational leadership, but they only work in a downward direction, not upwards. They also lack specific tools that can be put into practice.

However, Management 3.0, which was adapted from situational leadership, offers us 7 levels of delegation. It offers different levels for establishing who and how a decision is made: the Manager (Levels 1-3), jointly (Level 4), or by the Collaborators or Teams (Levels 5-7). Specifically, the Management 3.0 delegation levels are:

  • Level 1: Tell
  • Level 2: Sell
  • Level 3: Consult
  • Level 4: Agree
  • Level 5: Advise
  • Level 6: Inquire
  • Level 7: Delegate

Let’s go into each in a little more detail. Each of these levels is taken from the boss’s position.

Level 1 | Tell: I will tell them

I make the decision based on the criteria that I think are most appropriate, and once made, I will communicate it. 

The decision of which dishes to choose when ordering food in a restaurant. I will choose the dishes. No one else’s opinion matters.

Level 2 | Sell: I will try and sell it to them

I make the decision, and then I will explain it, detailing the reasons why I think it is the most appropriate option. 

I assign a weekly allowance to my young children, explaining why I think this amount is fair.

Level 3 | Consult: I will consult and then decide

I make the decision, but I will do it after hearing different opinions. 

I choose a restaurant after asking someone who knows the area so that I know the best options, considering that I prefer Italian food.

Level 4 | Agree: We will all agree together

The decision will be made jointly. It can be by agreement, by majority, by vote… but we make the decision together. 

What movie to go to with the whole family. We decide on the movie together.

Level 5 | Advise: I will advise but they decide

At this level, the delegation formally begins. We can express our preferences and possible criteria to take into account, but the decision is made by the collaborator. We can influence the decision, but without fooling ourselves: it must be made by the collaborator. If not, we are really implementing a covert Level 3. 

When our daughter decides which college to attend. We might give her our advice, but the ultimate decision is hers to make.

Level 6 | Inquire: I will inquire after they decide

This is one more level of delegation. We do not even express our preferences; we simply want to be informed of the decision. So once the decision is made, we will ask what the outcome was (or we want to have access to the result). We can ask about the decision chosen and the criteria used, if necessary, to convince us that it was the best option. 

When your teenager goes out with friends and they choose where they are going, but you want to know where they will be.

Level 7 | Delegate: I will fully delegate

This is the highest level of delegation. We do not even need to know the chosen option. We will be fine; we are unconcerned about the details. Those details are one less thing to worry about. 

When a child begins to choose their own clothes.

The examples I used are outside of a work environment to try to clarify some concepts more easily. Perhaps in some of the above situations you can think of other more appropriate levels, but all the decisions delegated in the examples have gone through Level 1 at some point (What clothes do we buy our children, Where do we take them?, What school do they attend?), but gradually we have to trust in their decisions.

It is clear that, depending on the context, the trust in the collaborator, the impact of the decision, etc., can oscillate on several levels. For example, the Level 1 that I used to order in a restaurant can become a Level 3 by asking what dish someone recommends or even a Level 7 by ordering the tasting menu without asking what is on it. But to reach Level 7 in this example, it must be a restaurant that we trust if we do not want to run the risk of getting an unpleasant surprise.

The fact that some decisions are Level 1 doesn’t imply a dictatorship. Simply, due to time, effort, relevance, and/or availability of the information, it might not necessarily involve anyone else. And Level 7 decisions do not mean anarchy; we simply trust our collaborators and fully delegate the decision without needing to know the details.

Even though organizations have different sizes, cultures, and levels of centralization, transferring decision making to these seven levels in a professional environment is relatively simple. However, this assumes that as managers, we are committed to and interested in delegating for two reasons: to help our collaborators grow and to give ourselves time to do other activities that yield more value.

Facilitating Delegation

Getting started is the hardest part… Some of the most common questions I hear are: How do we start to delegate? What expectations do our collaborators have about the decisions that we should make, and those that they would prefer to do? When are they sufficiently prepared for us to delegate to them?

Fortunately, in addition to the 7 Levels of Delegation, Management 3.0 also provides two tools to help facilitate the process of delegation: Delegation Poker and Delegation Boards.

Delegation Poker

Delegation Poker is a game that helps teams agree on how decisions will be made. Using a process similar to Planning Poker, explained in a previous article, it allows us to agree with our collaborators on both their expectations about who should make this decision, as well as on the level of delegation.

As in Planning Poker, we will also use cards, numbered from 1 to 7; where corresponding to a delegation level.

delegation poker

First, the scenario is presented about a decision that will have to be made. For example, deciding the dates of team members’ vacations.

Then, each person thinks about what level of delegation this decision should have. Perhaps someone prefers that the decision is made by the Manager, but they would like to be informed of the reasoning used (Level 2). Maybe someone thinks they are qualified to make the decision, but the Manager should be informed of the decision after it is made (Level 6).

When everyone has thought about which level they think is best, everyone shows their chosen card at the same time. There will surely be disparity and there will be different expectations. Using the “Poker” approach, we have all made them visible.

Together, everyone reaches a decision about the most appropriate level of delegation for the given scenario. And we move on to the next.

The entire team is able get a joint understanding about who should make the decisions in each scenario. The higher level (5-7) decisions they choose, the more they will be delegated.

Delegation Boards

Another tool, complementary to Delegation Poker, is the Delegation Board. Once the team has agreed on the level of each decision, we summarize the results and make them visible in a matrix. In this way, we will be reinforcing the transparency of decision-making and the expectations of each scenario. Remember that the Delegation Board is not static; it can evolve over time. You might modify the level for a decision or add new scenarios. Every action will help create an environment where it is easy for everyone to delegate and grow.

delegation boards

Delegation Poker and Delegation Boards are most effective when executed in a group that includes people in various roles and with different responsibilities. For example, if a group of managers who are peers played Delegation Poker, that would just be one big Level 1 decision.  

If you want to put either of these into practice, the Management 3.0 website has information about Delegation Poker and Delegation Boards. You can also download the Poker cards to print them yourself!


– Miquel

Want more leadership tools?

These are just a few of the innovative tools Management 3.0 promotes in for agile team leadership. Find out more!

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Picture of Miquel Rodríguez

Miquel Rodríguez

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