Balls & Boxes – A Delegation Metaphor – Part 3

This is part 3 of a multi-part series of posts that describes a metaphor for how our work life, personal life, and delegation of tasks all fit together to fill our boxes with all different sizes of balls.  If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, start there first.

Part 1 described our work and personal lives as boxes with lots of various tasks and responsibilities represented as balls that we put into these boxes.

Part 2 explained what to do when your boss gives you a new Big Ball to mange and why jamming it into your box or passing the new Big Ball down to your Directs is a recipe for disaster.

Let’s discuss the other options for this new Big Ball:

3. Pass one of Your Big Balls on to One of Your Directs has the same pitfalls as passing the new Big Ball down.  The only difference is that you are familiar with this particular Ball and can give guidance and instruction in how and when to complete it.  The problem is that this is one of your Big Balls.  It’s a big deal to you and one of your primary job duties.  Your Organization (your Boss) likely expects you to perform this work yourself.  Passing it down may not be politically acceptable.

If you have a really good Direct that’s up for a big challenge, you may be able to get away with it. But the transition would likely be more along the lines of breaking that Big Ball up and passing it down incrementally-not all at once.  You don’t want to crush your Direct with too large of a burden that they are not prepared for.

4. Pass down some of your Small Balls.  If this one new Big Ball is roughly equal to 3 or 4 Smaller Balls in the time and effort needed to accomplish the task, removing these Smaller Balls from your box will give you room to work with, and you can fit the new ball in. Take some time to determine who on your team is ready for a new challenge.


How do you know who’s ready for a new Ball?



-Who’s Ready for Promotion?

-Annual Reviews



What happens when you hand a Small Ball to a Direct?

It gets big.

To them, it’s a Big Ball for all the reasons I mentioned earlier.

-You have more experience

-You’ve  been doing that task longer

-It’s not a big deal to you


What does your direct do when you walk into their office and hand them a Big Ball? Go back to the beginning. They should accept the new Big Ball with enthusiasm and eagerness.  Then figure out what to do with it.


    One other option:

5. You could break the new Big Ball into Smaller Balls for your Directs. This may work, but typically a Big Ball from your boss is something that she wants you to handle personally so she knows that it will be done correctly. Eventually you can pass part or all of the task down but not right now when you first receive it.




What if you’re an individual contributor and there are no directs to pass your Small Balls off to?

Delegate to the floor.

Some of these things that you (or your Direct) are currently doing simply won’t get done.

Organization theory says that what the top people are doing is more important (for the organization) than what the (individual contributors) are doing. And that everyone’s Big Balls are more important than their Small Balls, so if you have to choose between the two, Big Balls get done. Small Balls don’t-or they get passed down-where they grow.

The folks at the bottom have to get their Big Balls done but the Small Balls can be skipped. Even if the Small Balls are fun, by definition, they are not important to the organization.



So there you have it.  Our work and personal lives are like boxes with Balls of tasks and priorities inside. These Balls fill our boxes with no room for new Balls.  We need to plan for what we will do and how we will handle it when we receive a new Big Ball from our boss.

It’s not a matter of if a new Ball will come our way, it’s just a matter of when. Plan now while your box is neat and tidy.



This series was inspired by a Manager Tools Podcast.  Thank you Mark and Mike. 

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