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Never delegate understanding

- Joe Benesh is a senior architect with Shive-Hattery and president + CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, diagramming, framework development, and design thinking consulting firm.

The title of this blog is a tenet attributed to Charles Eames (pictured below on the right), an architect and designer who practiced in the middle of the 20th century. I came across this in some research while I was working with an organization that had engaged me for strategic planning. It resonated with me.

The leadership team for this organization had been moving toward less “doing” and more “managing” in an operational sense. By delegating some of their tasks to committees and staff members, the leadership team expected it would be able to focus on being more strategic and less task-oriented. But the results, so far, had not proved this was occurring. Charles-and-Ray-Eames-documentary-1

In concept, it seemed simple enough – leadership had been completing task list “X” and generating outcome “Y”. So, why, when task list “X” was given to committee members and staff, was outcome “Z” being generated?

The leadership team had left out a critical component in their shift. They had not explained the reasoning or motivations behind task list “X”. They were the original authors of those tasks, so all the components were created by the leadership team and intrinsic to completing those tasks. They were not only known variables, but also fully understood components essential to generating outcome “Y”. The people who defined and understood those tasks were, at that time, the ones executing them. 

When task list “X” was transferred outside of the leadership team, the institutional knowledge, investiture, engagement, and background was not transferred with it. The team did not have the same knowledge, underlying motivations, or access to originating or contributing factors. They knew what they were expected to do, but did not understand why certain pieces were required to generate outcome “Y”. For them, outcome “Z” was no different than outcome “Y” and they were frustrated to hear that the leadership team was not happy with their result.

When I came across Eames' quote, it helped me understand what I felt would benefit the leadership team in realigning their team with the desired outcome. As much as we may try as leaders, there are many instances where we must carry the mission on behalf of our teams - at the very least philosophically - to allow it to permeate to the entire organization and to allow team members to unburden themselves from having to interpret what the mission means in their specific segment, freeing them up to maximize the potential of their role in the organization.

Team members often range from being fully invested to simply desiring to execute the tasks that are given to them. Both extremes and the range in between are all valid, but leaders should never delegate the full weight of mission and vision to their committees or staff members or leave it to them to holistically interpret them for themselves.

You or your leadership team understand the mission of what you are trying to accomplish; in this example, it’s the difference between getting to outcome “Y” or outcome “Z”. To allow your team to be successful, you can never fully offload the responsibility for understanding that to your team members. It isn't fair to you, or to them.

To the extent you are able to do that is by assigning accountability for achieving the desired outcome and helping the team understand how their efforts are supporting the mission and vision. Those two things work in a symbiotic fashion, fully dependent on each other for success.

The recommendation I made to the organization at the time was that the leadership team should always remain stewards of the mission and vision of the organization, and being able to answer the question “why?” They can let their team determine a tactical plan rooted in the strategy set at the leadership level.

The above framework allowed for an environment where outcome “Y” was achieved and the leaders were able to shift toward more strategic management while committees and staff met the expectations set out for them with a high level of engagement and success.

 For more information:Joe _Benesh_2011

 Contact: joe@ingenuitycompany.com

 Please follow: @ingenuitycmpny



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