Dan Kim

The most helpful thing you can say to a teammate — “It’s your call”

When a teammate asks me a question, one of my favorite responses is “It’s your call.” It’s such a simple yet powerful phrase. In just a few words it conveys…

Trust—Confidence—Respect—Autonomy—Ownership—Empowerment— Responsibility—Decisiveness

How can such a simple phrase mean so much? Take this common scenario — a team discussing what to work on next. Here’s one version of that conversation:

Julie: What should I work on next?

Shelley: How about a native homescreen?

Melissa: I’ve always wanted breadcrumb navigation!

Sara: Another option would be to squash some 🐛

Erica: File upload feature would be cool

Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a back and forth like this. Julie has opened the door for feedback, and the feedback provided makes total sense. But imagine the same opening line with a single response:

Julie: What should I work on next?

Shelley: It’s your call 😀

Immediately the whole tone of the conversation has changed for the better. Instead of asking for permission and being given specific directions, Julie has been empowered to make the decision herself. She now has complete ownership. She’s free to explore and make her own choices. She’ll assess all the open tasks. She’ll drum up her own new ideas. She’ll decide what’s next based on her own criteria of importance.

More importantly the team has expressed sincere trust, confidence, and respect in her and her abilities to do everything. They’ve said “whatever you decide is cool with us.” Full autonomy like this has significant long-term benefits to teams —no managers, increased motivation, time saved, sharper assessments, faster decisions, happier people, improved independent learning, better teamwork and so much more.

All of that accomplished by just saying a simple phrase.

When it comes to software development, conversational opportunities like this come up pretty frequently. Keep an eye out for questions about:

  • What to work on next
  • How to implement a feature
  • What tools, APIs, or libraries to use
  • How to manage/keep track of work

Of course when you’re asked for your opinion, you can certainly give it — you don’t want to leave people completely hanging. But before you do that, consider challenging the person asking the question by simply saying “It’s your call.” You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the outcome, and the long-term benefits are well worth it.