What does Tannenbaum & Schmidt Continuum Theory say?

In the past few decades, many leadership gurus came up with different definitions of leadership styles. Out of those theories, many of them are based on task – relationship characteristics. In 1938, Lewin and Lippitt proposed classifications of leaders based on how much involvement leaders placed into task and relationship needs.

Almost after four decades, in 1973, Tannenbaum & Schmidt came up with a continuum of earlier studies with range of leadership behaviors, ranging from manager-centered (task) to subordinate-centered (relationship).

Tannenbaum and Schmidt Continuum model shows the relationship between the levels of freedom that a manager chooses to give to a team, and the level of authority used by the manager. As we already discussed in Situational leadership, number of parameters goes into choosing the managerial style: manager’s competence, subordinate’s developmental level, the situation.

Based on the above parameters, level of delegation takes any one of the seven levels as depicted by the central arrow line.

tannenbaum schmidt continuum theory model
Tannenbaum & Schmidt concentrated more on delegation & freedom in decision making to subordinates and there by on the team development. As the team’s freedom increases, the manager’s authority decreases. This is a positive way for both teams and managers to develop. We already dealt delegating in  a different blog post.

Tannenbaum & Schmidt defined 7 levels of delegated freedom which moves from manager-oriented to subordinate-oriented. As team develops, level moves from one to the next – the area of freedom increases and the need for manager’s intervention decreases. Following levels are self-explanatory and easy to understand:

1. Manager takes decision and announces it – only manager plays the decision-making role; no team involvement

2. Manager decides and then “Sells” his decision to the team – no change in decision; but team may raise some concerns

3. Manager presents decision with background ideas for the decision and invite questions – team knows what options manager considered for his decision; more team involvement

4. Manager suggests provisional decision & invites discussion regarding the decision – team can have a say on manager’s decision; it can be changed based on discussion

5. Manager presents the problem or situation, get suggestions, then decides – team is free to come up with options; manager decides on those options

6. Manager explains the situation or problem, defines the parameters and asks team to decide on the solution – manager delegated whole thing to the team; but still manager is accountable for the outcome

7. Manager allows team to develop options and decide on the action, within the manager’s received limit – complete freedom level; team does all the work almost as what the manager does at level 1.

The main advantage of this theory: for leaders/managers – it defines the criteria for involvement and delegation & range of choices for the involvement.


Update on 08/16/2011 – Added Google Doc Presentation of this Article:

What, why and How of delegating

What is Delegating?

Delegating is like a magic wand in the hands of smart managers. Delegating is highly effective when used properly but it is a complex one to practice. Whatever be the leadership model, ‘Delegating’ is an undisputed leadership style discussed across all those models.

“Effective delegation takes emotional courage as we allow, to one degree or another, others to make mistakes on our time, money and good name.

Effective delegation must be two-way: responsibility given, responsibility received.”

-Stephen Covey in First things First

Let us review simple definition of Delegating: Delegating is assigning a task that you currently have in your activity list(for which you are ultimately responsible) and assigning it to other person with confidence that he will complete with minimal or no involvement from you.

As far as managers are concerned, Delegating allows them to make the best use of their time and skills, and it helps team member’s growth and develops to reach their full potential in the organization.

Why Delegating is not performed often?

Here are the few reasons managers tell for not delegating a task. Reviewing these would be a good learning on common mistakes which we do.

“I don’t have enough time to delegate properly.”

“I don’t have the skills to delegate well.”

“It’s easier to do it myself than to ask someone else.”

“The people to whom I could delegate are already too busy; don’t have the knowledge, skills, or experience required; or aren’t ready to accept this level of responsibility.”

“I’ve been let down in the past, and if they don’t get the job done, I’ll end up looking bad.”

“Risk taking is not encouraged in this organization, and delegation is risky.”

Why Delegating is required?

There are countless benefits to delegating. Now, let us review few of them:

* Delegation is an effective tool in grooming future managers/leaders

* Delegation is cost effective for the organization

* Delegation helps in time management – when work is in high volume and complex

* Delegation of decision making, participative management, and leading through other leaders are vital to increasing the total power of the manager/leader and the organization

* If delegating is done well, a project manager can quickly build a strong and successful team of people, well able to meet the demands that others place.

* Delegation demonstrates manager’s professionalism and effectiveness

* Delegation creates a win-win situation – The Manager and the organization – gets the work done faster,

The member – gets sense of accomplishment, trust, opportunity to grow and recognition

What are the parameters to do delegating?

Delegating is situation based. So, mainly, its parameters are:

a) Complexity of task in hand,

b) Risk involved if not task completed as expected and

c) Commitment & competence of team member

How to do delegating?

When delegating few things to be kept in mind.

* Delegate the whole job whenever possible – this makes member to feel responsibility which increases motivation

* Avoid upward delegation – that is, avoid having your team member turn to you to solve every problem that they encounter while performing the tasks that you delegated to them.

* Always have progress check points – Delegating is not just giving the work to someone and leaves it. This helps to find out whether the work progress in the right direction & gives more confidence on the timely delivery.

* Don’t delegate if you don’t know about the task – if you don’t know what to do to complete the task then we cannot get it done from others.

* Don’t delegate task that requires confidentiality or sensitive issues – there are few tasks like performance appraisal, interpersonal conflicts, sensitive matters (particularly lay-off) should not be delegated. They are exclusive duties of managers.

Delegating Steps

Understand & assess the task

Basic step of delegation is understanding & assessing the task you want to delegate. Assessment should be based on delegation parameters – complexity, level of skill, level of commitment, need for involvement. Without proper understanding one cannot delete a task to others.

Clarify objectives

After identifying the resource to do the work, next step is clarifying the objectives to him. Mainly, explain Why -> The purpose, What -> the goal and How -> the boundaries of the task, so the person has a clear picture of what we are wanting to accomplish. Also, talk on the reward, recognition & learning new skills.

Understand Concerns, feelings & suggestions

Also, understand & deal the comfortableness, concerns, feelings & suggestions of the member. Member should feel responsibility & not that he gets only extra work to perform. Based on outcome of this step, you may need to select different resource if there is any conflict of interest.

Decide & Agree on Goal

Next step is agreeing on time line, quality standards, level of your intervention, authority and accountability. This step is vital as this would be the baseline for further verification of work. Delegate the task and not the method to accomplish it. Let your team member will decide that. This makes the member to take personal initiative which gives him sense of contribution. It is important to express confidence on member’s work, your availability for support, and your appreciation during progress.

Get involved

Another important step is staying involved at the level agreed. Maintain open lines of communication. Checking too often or not getting involved will create negative impact. Revisit the frequency of communication based on the situation and negotiate.


Review the work done (not the method) in the agreed time interval and give positive and corrective feedbacks. If you’re not satisfied with the progress, don’t immediately take the project back. Continue to work with the member and ensure they perceive the project as their responsibility. After the final result delivery, take necessary initiative to fulfill the agreed reward.