Academic journal article Journal of the Academy of Business Education

Learning How to Delegate: An In-Basket Exercise

Academic journal article Journal of the Academy of Business Education

Learning How to Delegate: An In-Basket Exercise

Article excerpt

"What business schools teach doesn't always correspond to what managers value." [Porter, 2007]


"Empowerment" has been a popular topic in the management literature since the 1980s [e.g., Block, 1987; Conger, 1989; Conger and Kanungo, 1988] and continues to garner significant attention [e.g., Lorinkova, Pearsall, and Sims, 2013; Mills and Ungson, 2003; Seibert, Silver, and Randolph, 2004; Seibert, Wang, and Courtright, 2011; Wallace et al., 2011]. Meta-analysis results support empowerment's positive association with employee job satisfaction, commitment, job performance, innovative performance, and organizational citizenship behavior [Seibert, Wang, and Courtright, 2011]. Empowerment is defined as an employee's feeling of intrinsic motivation resulting from four task assessments: meaning, competence, choice/self-determination, and impact [Spreitzer, 1995; Thomas and Velthouse, 1990]. In turn, these task assessments are affected by a variety of contextual and individual characteristics. Among the contextual antecedents of empowerment are high-performance management practices, which include par- ticipative decision-making, decentralization, and information-sharing, along with leadership qualities such as trust, support, and the granting of autonomy [Seibert, Wang, and Courtright, 2011; Spreitzer, 2008]. Given these contextual antecedents, it's not surprising that the management practice of delegation is frequently attached to the empowerment concept in the literature [Klagge, 1998]. Indeed, effectively delegating task assignments, with concomitant increases in authority, accountability, and skill development, is a key tool managers have for enhancing employees' feelings of empowerment.

While the concept of empowerment appears with some frequency in the textbook coverage of topics like motivation and leadership, the management technique of delegation is surprisingly under-represented. Specifically, after reviewing numerous Organizational Behavior texts and conducting database searches of the popular SoTL (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) journals, I found the delegation topic largely limited to exclusively skills-based management textbooks [e.g., Daft and Marcic, 2014; Whetten and Cameron, 2011]. Given the frequently-heard criticism that management education is long on theory and short on practically relevant skills [e.g., Bennis and O'Toole, 2005; Brotheridge and Long, 2007; Friedrich, 1981; Mintzberg, 1975; Porter and McKibbin, 1988; Quelch, 2005], the topic of how to delegate work effectively seems due for more attention by those responsible for teaching future managers key aspects of the role.


The in-basket exercise described here, suitable for undergraduate and graduate students in Organizational Behavior, Leadership, and Principles of Management courses, asks students to make decisions about how to handle a variety of items that confront Nina, recently promoted to the position of Human Resources (HR) Director at her company. The debrief that follows the exercise covers well-established delegation principles as well as other factors that Nina should consider in making choices about what and how to delegate work to employees. The exercise and debrief can be completed in one 50 or 75 minute class period. Asking students to make the initial delegation decisions as homework prior to class may accommodate a shorter time allotment. Alternatively, having the students form groups and process the in-basket items collectively may require more than one class period. The exercise is described in detail below.


Nina has worked at Paradise Vacation Rentals in Sacramento, California, since its inception ten years ago. Paradise began as a short-term vacation rentals company based in Reno, Nevada. Paradise started out linking property owners in the ski country around Lake Tahoe who wanted to earn rental income with vacationers seeking an alternative to a hotel stay. …

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