Buffet delegation: A low-risk way to delegate difficult work

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Published: November 2020

The following excerpt is from our in-house onboarding flow for new team members. We are publishing it as a series of articles, which we’re calling The Infinite Manager. The series describes the unconventional operating system that has enabled our small team to have such an impact on the web’s leading companies.

Delegation is usually push-based: you select the work and then delegate it.

Often, we prefer to use a process we call buffet delegation. (Note that it’s “buffet” with one “t”—as in cheese cubes and mini turkey meatballs. It has nothing to do with Warren Buffett.) Buffet delegation is pull-based: we lay out all the work that needs doing, and then the person to whom we are delegating chooses the work at which they believe they’d be best.

People choosing food from a buffet.
“I think I’d be good at eating those.”

Buffet delegation is particularly suitable for delegating to someone new to our company (because they know what they are best at, and we don’t).

A buffet-delegation meeting typically lasts about an hour. We spend most of that time talking through all the projects on our to-do lists. The meeting is unrushed, and exploratory to the point of feeling inefficient. The goal is to identify work that lies at the intersection of the following:

  • It matches their skills and interests, so they’ll be able to do it well.
  • It’s standalone enough so that it doesn’t require a vast amount of prior knowledge, training, or handover work.
  • It’s a high priority for our company. In the past, we have made the mistake of delegating work that’s wasn’t already on our to-do lists. We ended up stuck with our existing workload and not having time to manage the new work.

A side effect of buffet-delegation meetings is that the person learns about all the other things we are working on, giving them a bird’s-eye view of our company.

If you do try buffet delegation, please let us know how you get on so that we can update this article. Is there anything we should change or add?

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