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How to Supercharge a Team With Delegation

Delegation is often overlooked as some boring management concept or the process of just telling someone what to do. However, it's much more than that. Getting delegation right can supercharge your team's productivity, increase autonomy and help people learn new skills.

In this talk, we'll have a look at the concept of delegation and show you can use it to effectively delegate tasks as an individual contributor and a manager in a way that improves your whole team in the long term. We'll then see how delegation ties into learning and mentorship by calling upon learning theory from the classroom. We'll also spend some time learning how not to delegate by exploring some common antipatterns: stealing back control, fire and forget, and hoarding tasks for yourself.  Finally, the bigger the task that you delegate, the bigger the panic you'll have about it getting done properly. We'll turn to the ancient Stoics for some advice on how to reduce your control without increasing your blood pressure.

What are you involved in doing today?

This week and next week we are trying to work on the roadmap for 2020 for the company. We've come up with a whole bunch of outcomes that we're trying to achieve for our software and our users. Various things that we'd like to accomplish and various behaviors that we'd like to see. For example, more logins, more recurring user activity, more useful actions being performed. And then we're going to be assigning them to teams to work on. That's where we are at the moment. I've got 65 people in my division, which is about eight engineering teams. So we're mapping the outcomes to the teams and then they will kick everything off, and then they'll start designing what they're going to build in the next few quarters. We're in planning mode right now.

Can you talk a little bit about what your role is?

My job title is SVP Engineering. Effectively I'm managing managers now. We have three divisions in our software company, in the engineering department, and there's one who looks after all of the infrastructure. There's one that looks after the data platform and there is one that builds the applications on top. My division is the applications on top. We have various different SaaS tools that our customers buy and we build those.

Do you have specific goals for the talk?

Yes. One of the goals is to take what is considered a fairly old school management topic, which is delegation, which some people might think, well, we don't really need that in tech companies. We all have these self organizing teams, and we just get on with stuff. But I really wanted to show to the audience that it's as relevant as it's ever been. And it's also a skill that if you master, it can really increase your impact as a manager, as a team leader, and even as an individual contributor by being able to delegate work to the people in the right way. The other goal that I aim to have the audience leave with is to spot when and where bad delegation happens, and also how to fix it. We've all worked with managers or people who have been completely unable to delegate anything at all, and therefore run around with their hair on fire all the time, or we have people who are at the other end of the spectrum who blindly forward every piece of work to other people. The email with no comment. They tell people things to do and then never follow up. A complete lack of accountability. Those are bad cases on both ends of the delegation spectrum. I want to highlight and then also show how that spectrum is constructed, and how for each task and each person you can pick the right way to delegate different things.

Does this approach work for distributed teams?

I think it fits anyone. What I want to do with the talk is to construct this idea of how you can measure a team's output. In the output of the individuals in the team, but also who they influence in the company. And then show how. If you look at it that way, then where is the accountability and responsibility? And then, what do you do to get things done in the most effective way? And this could be whether you sit next to each other physically or whether you're distributed. But it's all to do with how you ensure that things get done with the right level of accountability and responsibility. I want to show some examples of how when it doesn't work, and debug some situations that happen when you don't do it properly. The other goal of the talk is to link delegation to other fields of study. What's quite interesting about delegation is that it's very, very similar to this concept in learning theory called the zone of proximal development, which is used to improve how students learn in school.


James Stanier

VP Engineering @Brandwatch

Dr. James Stanier is a computer science Ph.D who made the jump from software engineer to manager and has never looked back. He is based in Brighton and is SVP Engineering at Brandwatch. He has built web scale real time data processing pipelines and teams of people: both are equally challenging....

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