Doers Avoid Upward Delegation


Leaders looking for results in an outcome-based workplace are running into a growing problem with followers, who will not accept ownership when a job is done poorly. Instead, they pile on the excuses and float the whole mess back up the chain of command. Which could explain why more of the responsibility for getting things done keeps landing in your lap.

This newly emerging phenomenon is called “upward delegation.” One example is when a subordinate peppers you with questions about a job you have assigned him until you run out of patience and do it yourself. Or, when a follower who intentionally lets a task go unfinished, knowing full well that someone else will take care of it, which in most cases ends up being you.

Leaders, tired of playing the game, stop giving the untrustworthy followers any more responsibilities—preferring instead to work more closely with the Doers who are known to be dependable.

Such action may resolve your frustrations and it may even speed things up a bit, but in reality it compounds the problem. Besides, responding to complaints from the malcontents claiming that you are playing favorites will later eat up any time you might save. Fortunately, there is a better way to handle this. It is called Responsibility Charting.

If you are like most leaders, team meetings are the primary setting in which you discuss projects and follow up on assignments. Meetings are just about the only time when all your people get to see you in action.

Meetings also set the stage for the work that must get done before the team gets together again. Therefore, these precious opportunities must be fruitful and productive for everyone.

Thankfully there is an easy-to-use process called responsibility charting that provides a language for pinpointing authority, roles, and reporting relationships. Introduced by J. Galbraith in his book Designing Complex Organizations, this powerful process enables you to talk about structure by breaking it down into specific team functions and work tasks. You will find responsibility charting particularly helpful when launching a new venture or getting a derailed project back on track.

Before we go any further, take a minute to imagine a matrix with the name of your team written across the top row and the various tasks you want them to accomplish listed in order along the side in the first column. Now visualize that each person has a column beneath his or her name in which to place a letter.
The letters, RACI, represent the role that is to be performed for each task.

Responsible. The letter -R- identifies the person accountable for taking action. As a general rule there will only be one -R- for each task. The person with the -R- should understand and accept the conditions of performance that may include a budget, time frame, completion dates, milestones, etc.

Approve. The letter -A- identifies the person(s) whose approval is needed before anything happens. This makes it clear that before any action is taken, the person with the -R- needs to run it by the -A- to get approval. The -R- will coordinate with the -A- to see just how far the -R- can go before the -A- wants additional feedback.

Consult. The letter -C- indicates that a certain level of expertise is necessary for the successful completion of the task. It tells the -R- whom to consult with as the task progresses. Take note that only those persons designated -R- or -C- need to attend future task meetings—a time saver for everyone.

Inform. The letter -I- identifies the person(s) who need to be informed when the action is complete or given a status update as the task progresses. People with the -I- don’t need to attend meetings because the person with the -R- will keep them informed.

In addition to keeping track of the status of each task within a project, responsibility charting can be used to evaluate the contribution of each team player. For example, if you see that a team member has performed well as a -C- on several tasks, he or she could be ready to assume the -R- on a task that’s coming up. This is a good way to shift responsibility to those who are ready for it.


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