Passing the baton

If you’ve seen an Olympic relay race, you’re familiar with this concept.  Four runners work together to win a race by running one segment each.  Each runner carries a white plastic baton as they run, and must pass it off to the next in line before he or she can take off.

As I learned in high school gym class, this was easier said than done.  I remember running full speed to the end of my 440 in the mile relay, and there was a specific zone on the track where I was allowed to make the handoff.  The next runner started increasing speed as I approached, then turned forward and offered his hand backwards to receive the baton. 

My job was to slap it into his hand and hold on until I felt a firm tug letting me know that he really had it.  But I let go too soon, and the baton dropped to the track. It bounced around as he tried to pick it up, and the setback ruined our chances of winning.

I’ve found that delegation works the same way.  When you give a task to someone, it makes a big difference in how you hand it off.  There should be a clear objective (where is the finish line?); a good 2-way discussion about what needs to be done (2 hands holding the baton); and a firm tug when the delegated says “I got it.”

Without taking a little time on these critical steps, you risk dropping the baton and setting your team back on the project.  You can’t just throw it 10 yards forward in the air because you’re tired or impatient… and hope it gets caught.

Look at the business processes in your organization.  Where are the batons usually getting dropped?  Fixing the problem may require some adjustments in tracking or project management software.  More importantly, it may require an attitude adjustment… instilling the practice of not letting go until you’re sure the assignment has been successfully handed off. 

Make it graceful, and your team will keep running at full speed.

Explore posts in the same categories: Communication, Motivation

5 Comments on “Passing the baton”

  1. Jim G Says:

    Sometimes it is hard to know where to pass the baton, because your head is where the sun does not shine and you are not concentrating on the task to be done. Know anyone like that?

  2. Andy J. Says:

    Drives me crazy when the person I handed the baton to slows down or completely stops halfway around the track even though the handoff was flawless and everyone seemed to understand the goal. I then find myself running to the person with said baton and attempting to complete the race (or make the next hand off to someone else) myself.

    Figuratively speaking of course, if I actually ran I would either
    a.) have a heart attack
    b.) expire
    c.) have a heart attack then expire
    Also, as anyone who has known me for a while knows: If you see me running – call the police – because someone is chasing me.

    • davidgoad Says:

      LOL Andy! I forgot to mention that if you work in Information Technology, it’s a lot more like a Rugby game than Track & field 🙂

  3. Bo B. Says:

    Excellent analogy and life lesson! So often the person you are handing it to makes a gesture or comment that leads you to “believe” he’s got it, but words do not equal a “firm tug” that confirms he/she REALLY has it!
    Applies to both work and home…make sure your kid has fully agreed to, accepted the responsibility for, and is willing to take the action of…mowing the dang lawn before you decide to relax this weekend!

    • davidgoad Says:

      Bo, you are right on with the kids! Make sure you get some eye contact too 🙂

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