Involvement Poker

Maybe you've heard of delegation poker – a collaborative way to determine, what level of delegation a team and team lead are comfortable with. Let me tell you a story about how this applies to leaderless teams.

Once, there was a team and we set it up to be properly leaderless and self-managing. Of course there was a disciplinary supervisor, but for all product and delivery related terms, the team was empowered to act autonomously.

However with great autonomy comes great responsibility and this led to some level of resentment in people. Not everybody felt excited to participate in all discussions and decisions while others in the team made it very clear that they expected everyone to participate – that that was the meaning of self-management.

In teams with team leads I would open the Management 3.0 toolkit and introduce them to delegation poker, a way to collaboratively determine how much involvement in certain decisions the team wants and needs. And while this team didn't have a dedicated team lead, the approach still felt right.

So I introduced them to the method and after some brain storming, we came up with the following protocol:

In a first session we defined basic areas for decisions, like visual design, architecture, user flows, and the like. For all of these, we played a round of poker to determine how much everybody personally wanted to be involved.

Then, for every feature tackled, team members would get the chance to change their number, to account for things they particularly cared or wouldn't care about – or phases in life where they'd rather spend less time in decision processes at work.

How do you play this involvement poker?

It's just like planning poker or its predecessor, delegation poker, and it goes like this:

Everybody gets cards, numbered 1 through 7. They pick one and everybody reveals theirs on cue. The number hereby denotes the level of involvement – that is relative to the rest of the team.

1: Please decide and then tell me

2: Please make me understand your decision

3: Please consult me and then take the decision without me

4: Let's decide this together

5: Let me make the decision and I'll make sure to ask your input

6: Let me make the decision and then loop you in

7: Let me make the decision and get it done

With this statement in place, people knew who to invite to which discussion and to involve in which decision.

For example, it needed to be discussed and decided, how users should interact with a certain feature. Two of the engineers voted 2 user flow topics, one voted 4, and one voted 5, the designer voted 6 and the PO 7. Thus, they knew to expect participation from the PO and designer and at least one – probably both – of the engineers, that voted 4 and 5. So they did a brainstorm with all four, then scheduled a decision making that actually didn't even involve the 4-vote anymore, because she was confident, the other three would take the best decision.

The others then proceeded to make a decision and scheduled another meeting to share the results as well as the process of how they got there with the rest of the team.

The 2s were happy because they weren't expected to be involved in steps they didn't care about and to get looped in when it was decided. The 4 and 5 were happy to have had their say/participation. The 6 and 7 were happy to get a decision done smoothly and weren't disappointed because they knew what to expect from the others.

The basic rule is this: The higher the score, the more you are reasonably expected to be involved. Anybody may participate and as long as there is somebody there who has voted higher than you, you are allowed to withdraw yourself from the process when you see fit.

Only the highest number is expected to actually stay with the process to the end, because they obviously care the most.