Best cast ever! Why?
1: Engages the listener in the conversation.
2: Puts the importance of the subject in an understandable context.
3: Is viral- I'm spreading the koan/question to my directs who need to juggle more balls
4: As someone who juggles for recreation, I love this analogy!
5: The real time forum to podcast idea reinforces the MT community and vice versa.

Bloody brilliant!


ck_1's picture

The Juggling Koan was my first Manager Tools download (from iTunes) and is why I am now on these forums!

lazerus's picture


The forum community will back me up on this: they're ALL GOOD! I've been going back to the casts about late stage coaching to help an employee improve their soft skills. Basically, MT saved this guys job and the method saved me from failing by terminating him. Like I said, ALL GOOD!

Mark and Mike are like a two headed roshi of management, at whose feet I sit almost daily.

Mark's picture
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Ach, we got lucky and you heard a good one.

It's weird to think that that's the first one for someone, as different as it is.

The shownotes for that cast were thirteen pages long.


poncho_57's picture
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Nice job on this one.

Yesterday I became an evangelist.

In fact, I was so pushy about it I called back today to apologize. Apology was well received. I think there is a podcast about that.

Regarless, I enjoy the podcasts.

I plan to become a regular contributor to the site.

Execution since initiation
- Hotwash - implemented on key projects
- 11 - implemented with my most talented direct report yesterday
- Preparing for review - started today
- D I S C - use daily
- Internal customer relations - two meetings down, 14 to go
- Quick and Dirty Performance Appraisals - used on 6 direct reports
- Interviewing on short notice - locked, cocked and ready to rock
- Time management - Hard to swallow. Significant adjustment made. My Number one priority now has scheduled time each day.

I am having so much fun learning this stuff.

Keep up the good work.

If you need criticism. How about more trash talk? That keeps it interesting. Paging Mr. H Stern.

Having too much fun with this,
- poncho_57

Mark's picture
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Glad you liked it, and that you're with us and getting so much value.

GREAT job on implementation. That's always the test and the reward.

Sorry, though... no trash talk. We're too nice.


desserts's picture

Complements for the Juggling Koan podcast.

What a clever way to make people understand the purpose and importance of time management and delegation!


steveaz26's picture
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Excellent cast! I'm going to try to facilitate this into a discussion at one of my next staff meetings. All my direct reports are managers themselves, some with other managers reporting to them. I think it will be a great discussion. If anyone has any tips on facilitating this in person feel free to chime in. I'm hoping it goes as will with a live audience as with the forum.

slymcmosa's picture

I have enjoyed listening to the free podcasts for a number of months and this podcast actually has compelled me to cross over into memebership. I know it is difficult to measure that type of thing but I wanted to offer the marketing data point. Mike and Mark, it might be interesting to add a 'What made you subscribe' question, particularly if an option could be listening to a particular podcast.

I thought the process employed for the Juggling Koan was very intriguing and a great way to tap into to the new era of online collaboration and social networks as Participatory Podcast. With how linear and time based we are used to experiencing such things, it is interesting that we can have an ongoing discussion well infront of and after the podcast origin date.

The idea of using Koan's to facilitate a greater discussion is wonderful for the management sciences world. A fascinating alternative to the more often employed Case Study.

Mike and Mark, I encourage you to embrace the Koan approach even more and maybe not so easily describe a 'correct answer'. I think when looked at as an abstract this helps you to ask yourself more questions that you must struggle to find the answers to forever really. Perhaps then the forum discussion wouuld just be ongoing for such a topic.

The pure juggling Koan has a smaller scope answer that stops short of 'delegation solution' that is suggested. The answer is simply about the response given to your boss, which is to be affirmative, because your responses to people should be purely constrained by your relationships with them. Your relationship as a subordinate is one of a supporter. You support your boss and your bosses requests. I think this simple realization is what the Juggling Koan offers. You should say 'Yes, gladly'. How specifically you go on to be an effective manager is not part of that simple truth.

The koan asks many more questions than the one about the affirmative and supporting response, but there a fewer absolute answers as one explores further.

The exploration of delegation is certainly one of the more respectable approaches to dealing with the situation in detail. But deriving a truth about delegation crosses over the line from being a thought provoking Koan to a definitve Case Study. That is clear when you consider a number of assumptions that have to be made in order to insure that delegation is the ultimate course of action.

Some of these assumptions I see in the description of the correct answer in the koan are:
* an organization which is attempting to grow
* managers share skill sets with at least some direct reports
* balls do not grow in size over time
* balls which do not grow when neglected or dropped
* organizations which are not accountable to customers for all billable hours
* a non-production line organization with quality supervision (dropped balls at the bottom of the chain can represent reduction in quality of product, which can then change the size of the dropped ball)
* new balls are not introduced to the juggler horizontally

A simple example is if the organization were to be a customer relationship managment group, and the balls were actually particular customers, perhaps the size representing importance or level of effort involved in maintaining the relationship. While some customers are certainly more important than others, it is unlikely that any organization responsible for such relationships would be willing to have some of those customers just drop on the floor. A reality of the koan if the final tier is already at capacity and one stated is that it must be accepted that some work will not get done, in this case, some customers needs will not be met. Even if some customer balls are small enough to be dropped, it is entirely likely that as they either escalate the inattention beyond your level of management, the size of their ball would quickly increase.

Now with customer service you might be able to subdivide the balls a bit so that no ball is completely dropped, but that really breaks the koan and the juggling metaphor. what the metaphor actually says is that since you need to break up the balls more you need one of your directs to be able to have resources, in order to add another juggler for the even smaller balls.

You often brought up an IT organization, and I assume you include Software Product Development under that umbrella. It is an interesting dilemna because these organizations are usually both Customer Service and Production Lines. Optmization is certainly possible in every form of production, but it usually costs something. Mainly because it requires more than just the decision making and work of individuals.

An amedment to the koan which I think we make an even more realistic puzzle to ponder is that the dropped balls are magically inflated over time and end up floating to your boss. This is certainly what I have experienced in every instance of my career. The answer is not easy with this koan but that is more the point. Perhaps there is no simple asnwer, but contemplating the facets of the problem certainly make you better at dealing with it.

This was way too long of a post, but I just think that speaks to how much thought this podcast and supporting activities inpired. Keep up the great work guys!

Mark's picture
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I'm sorry this is not a more full answer, but for now I can say I disagree with the majority of your "assumptions".


asteriskrntt1's picture

I just listened to this cast and found it fascinating. Lots of viewpoints and a great discussion. This might have been in the cast and I just missed it, so I thought I would throw this question out anyhow. I think you mentioned that in the one on ones etc that you are continually scoping your team to see whom you can delegate to when required. Is there another side of the coin?

As a fairly new manager, do you manage on the expectation that you will be given a big ball in the near future? If so, do you start prepping your directs in the one on ones and quarterly reviews, letting them know that something might be coming so that they should continually be "scouting" for what they might delegate (if they can)? Or is this detrimental and you wait until it happens?



steveaz26's picture
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Delegation occurs frequently on our team. Most often, the items that get delegated are short-term or 1-time projects/activities. I definitely keep a constant look out for which of my directs appear to have capacity as well as the ability to take on delegated tasks. I will also delegate ‘balls’ that will have minor consequences if dropped to those that may not be very strong with that particular task but are willing to take it on for their development. What I’m finding is that my team almost always accepts the delegation without hesitation. Only when they are really overloaded or have other conflicting priorities do they push back and we are always able to work out an alternative.

The biggest problem I’m finding is that, at times, they take something on then miss deadlines or deliver the output with low quality. They also don’t let me know when they are truly at risk. When we talk about how the task/project is going they tend to indicate that it’s ‘ok’ or ‘fine.’ When I do a deeper review with them the issues start to come out and many times could’ve been avoided had they either brought them up earlier or done a better job in planning or asked for clarification. As I write this a couple larger projects are now at risk. I’m taking Mark’s advice to heart and looking for the problem in increasingly larger circles around myself. I believe there’s a lot more I could do better going forward including setting more milestones instead of just defining the final objective, insisting that they document some type of plan and we review it early on, having regular reviews, defining what measurement(s) will be used to track progress etc. What I struggle with is crossing the line on micro-managing and not giving them the freedom and flexibility to manage their project/task as they want to.

Mark's picture
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Yes. If both you and your direct can do something, Managerial Economics 101 strongly urges you to give them the task.


Yes. Your directs are not as good as you are at some things. And it's the CORE PART of your job to teach them how to do more. The first time anyone does ANYTHING they do poorly. It is not micromanaging to ask them to report and give guidance and suggest options. Micromanaging is telling them how to do everything and critiquing it and having them do it YOUR way. Micromanaging focuses on the HOW of everything.

Keep delegating, and keep giving guidance. Stars will rise.


huntbk's picture

I just discovered this podcast, and am listening to back casts.

I have to comment on the guy who said to "politely decline," and offer a real-life experience.

My last team lead was a "polite decliner." It really annoyed those of us on the team who a) wanted to do some more visible projects and b) wanted to learn new things. We ended up begging him to accept the next project that came along.

That didn't happen, because he was fired two weeks ago after less than a year in team management.

ssf_sara's picture

I just listened to this cast and it puts into perspective what often happens at our VP's staff meeting.

[list]VP mentions a new project that might be coming up.
Director #1 says that his group is booked until March (or some month about 3-6 months in the future).
Director #2 says that more people will need to be hired.
Director #3 says nothing (or asks some clarifying question about the project).[/list:u]
Guess which director is getting more responsibility, a bigger team, etc?