There is No Them

Lessons on leadership from the world of game development

Levels of Engagement: a Model to Ensure Consistent Expectations of Participation

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In diagnosing disconnects between groups, direct reports and managers, or peers, I have found that a common reason for these disconnects was the lack of a shared understanding of how involved one party was to have been with a given effort. Where one party believed that attending a meeting and providing feedback was sufficient the other party may have been expecting to share responsibility for the meeting more, and the difference between these expectations leads to a breakdown in the process.
To address this issue with my team and the teams we work with I use what I call the Levels of Engagement model. It’s a tool that allows for more synchronized discussions about what level of participation each party is expecting. Much in the way that VICAR/RACI serves as a model for better decisions making (the subject of another post), the Levels of Engagement model helps multiple parties agree on what level of participation is appropriate for each party.
The model itself is a continuum, presented here ‘bottom up’:
  • Participate – at the very least one is a participant in an activity. Going to a meeting and offering your thoughts, but taking no further responsibility, is an example of a participant.
  • Facilitate – to facilitate is assisting other parties in their efforts to get together, at a tactical level. No more substantive responsibility is being taken on by the facilitator, their role is to smooth the interaction for the benefit of the other parties. Putting one party in contact with another (but not ensuring follow-up, or having any oversight) is an example of facilitating an interaction.
  • Coordinate – to coordinate is to track the interactions of multiple groups sufficient to ensure they are communicating to each other, with no greater responsibility of the effort or over the parties involved. Working with another party to ensure previously separate activities are done in a way that shows they are aware of each other is an example of coordination (though the separate activities likely are not changed substantially as a result of that awareness).
  • Manage – to manage is to step just across the line from coordination into accepting responsibility for the outcome. Whereas coordinating may or may not result in a minor change in the plan of either party, to manage the same thing would likely include ensuring something is changed on either (or both) sides to better meet the given goals.
  • Drive – whereas managing a process is about accepting responsibility for keeping it moving, driving the process is about pushing it to go just a bit faster than it would on its own. Driving an effort is about finding ways to make it happen faster/better/cheaper, whereas managing the same process is more about accepting the system it is in and working within that structure.
  • Own – accepting complete responsibility, doing whatever it takes personally, including ensuring that others make changes necessary. Note that neither drive nor own requires someone to be ‘driven’ or ‘aggressive’; these words describe the level of personal accountability not the methods used to achieve the ends.
  • Sponsor – to sponsor something is to both assume personal responsibility for it while also not being involved in any way other then as oversight or coach. Senior managers often sponsor an effort but turn over the execution to more appropriate folks on their team.
Some things to consider about the model:
  • It is normal for a person to have different levels of engagement at different times on the same project.
  • It is normal for multiple people to have the same level of engagement, though this requires that the involved parties are clear with other about the specifics involved that they see as their responsibility.
  • The levels of engagement do not map to one expertise; part of growing more senior is realizing that you personally cannot do everything. It is a sign of experience and professional maturity when someone rightly understands the level of engagement most beneficial for a given effort, independent of their seniority/title/etc.

Like any model consider this a framework to have a discussion, and not a set of rules. I have found, as a business and people leader, that this model can help everyone get on the same page.


Written by joshuahoward

October 24, 2008 at 8:57 am

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