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Leading Agile Developers: The Seven Levels of Authority (Part 2)

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For managers to make the best use of self-organization in their business, they need to distribute control and delegate their authority. In this article, Jurgen Appelo, author of Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders, describes the seven levels of authority and the “authority board” managers can use to delegate control to self-organizing teams.
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Managers are authorized by shareholders to grow the business and hire other people (and other managers). But to make the best use of self-organization in their business, they need to distribute control and delegate their authority. This article, the second in a two-part series, continues from Part 1 and describes the scientific reason to empowering people, the seven levels of authority, and the “authority board” as a simple mechanism to delegate control to self-organizing teams.

Situational Leadership

When we recognize that delegation is about passing authority around, another inevitable question that arises is, “How should we do that?”

One suggestion is offered by Situational Leadership Theory, developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. This “theory” suggests that delegation of authority depends on the kind of task and the maturity of the people to whom the tasks are delegated.1 Situational Leadership Theory (Figure 8) distinguishes between four “leadership styles:”

  • Telling: One-way communication from the manager, involving specific instructions and close monitoring of the task.
  • Selling: The manager uses two-way communication to get “buy in” from the individual or group to whom the task is delegated.
  • Participating: This involves shared decision-making about the tasks and how they should be accomplished, with less supervision.
  • Delegating: The manager is still involved, but responsibility and authority are passed to the individual or group.

Figure 1 Situational Leadership Theory

The manager who has authority to have some work carried out should decide which of these four “leadership styles” to apply and in which situation. This should depend on the maturity of the employee and the kind of task, not on the manager’s mood and what he did after dinner last night.

However, I see two issues with the four levels of Situational Leadership Theory, and how these can be applied by Agile managers:

  • First, Situational Leadership Theory does not clearly distinguish between informing people (push) versus consulting them (pull). For example, in level 2 (Selling), the manager could be pushing his own opinion to try and convince people. But he could also be primarily interested in pulling their opinions in order to make a better decision. I think these are two very different scenarios.
  • Second, the list lacks a level where delegation is complete. That is, a situation where control is fully transferred to a team and the manager does not even feel involved anymore. He simply fully trusts the team to get things done, but like the team he is still held accountable for the team’s results.

In a moment, we will see how we can fix these two issues.

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