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Distributed Decision-Making: Building Capacity in your Team

For people in a position of high-impact, where the decisions being made affect a larger scope of the organization, it can be hard to let go of decision-making and delegate.  A simple analogy can help any leader grow capacity in their team by giving more responsibility to others on your team. This increase in responsibility has a ripple effect on the overall team and its members. Increasing responsibility demonstrates trust and increased trust positively impacts engagement. Engagement, as we know, is directly correlated to performance. So the short path is – let people know you trust them and their abilities and they’ll rise to the challenge.

It can be hard to do this of course. What if they make a mistake?

Of course they will. Just like you have. And yet, things can turn out okay even if there is a mistake made. The real question is how do I know which decisions and responsibilities are safe to delegate?

Consider this metaphor “Above the Water Line or Below the Water Line”.

Imagine that your company is a boat. That’s right, a boat. You can decide if it’s a sail boat, a tug boat or as big as the Titanic. But there it is, floating in the waters. You are the captain of the boat. You are responsible for a safe and successful mission.

Now think about all the decisions that need to be made as cannon balls are being shot at your boat.  Every decision is a cannon ball flying through the air at your boat.  The decisions you make have the potential to get in the way of your progress or support you in your mission.

  • Some of those cannon balls may not hit you at all, it’s an easy decision.
  • Some of those cannon balls may hit you above the water line, that is, they have the potential to cause harm but won’t sink you.
  • Some of those cannon balls may hit you below the water line, and sink you to the bottom. These are the ones that have very little room for mistakes.

When thinking about these decisions and which ones you can delegate, think about that water line. Give room to your team members to make some decisions. It’s most likely that they’ll make good decisions, you do after all hire good people. And in the event they make a mistake, the lessons learned grows the collective intelligence and your team is stronger because of it.  You build capacity, you build capabilities and your crew is more capable of supporting the team to a successful completion of the mission.

Go ahead, experiment. Take some (safe) risks and build capacity in your crew.

Aye-Aye Captain.



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