This article discusses the tendency of subordinates to transfer an assigned problem back to their superior and explores some strategies for the manager to avoid accepting “the monkey.”

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Careers, business studies

Key Questions to Explore:

  • How does one avoid re-assuming a delegated problem?

New Terminology:

“Monkey on your back”

Materials Needed:

Copies of the article for the students

Learning Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

Often leaders seek to delegate tasks to subordinates, not only to give them opportunities for growth but also to expedite solutions and increase efficiency. Many times, however, the subordinate returns to the boss and, through discussions and concerns, returns the problem to the boss for action. This figuratively has been called “transferring the monkey”. The question, therefore, becomes “On whose back should the monkey be?”. Many times, managers find themselves re-assuming delegated problems and they become overwhelmed while the subordinate has less to do. This lesson will examine this problem and have the students explore ways in which the manager can avoid this.

Action (lesson plan and task):

  • Ask the students to explain what is meant by the term “monkey on your back”.
  • Once it has been established that this means taking ownership of an issue or problem that needs to be resolved, ask the students if they have ever been in a situation where they have returned a problem or issue to the person who assigned it to them. Or have they, in fact, re-accepted a problem or issue that they delegated to someone else?
  • Have them give examples and explain why it happened.
  • With this as background, arrange the class in small groups and ask them to discuss how, as managers, they could avoid “re-assuming the monkey on their back”.
  • Give the groups time to discuss the task and develop responses.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Have the groups report their findings and respond to any questions or comments from the class.

Success Criteria:

  • The students will be able to suggest ways in which managers or leaders can avoid re-assuming “monkeys” and help enable the person with the assigned task to bring it to completion.

Confirming Activity:

  • Once the groups have presented and discussed their material, provide them with copies of the article.
  • Ask them to read the article and discuss if they would now alter their original ideas.
  • Have them report the answers to the class and, during a plenary discussion, ask them to identify any new strategy they have learned that would make them enablers rather than a person who willingly re-assumes monkeys.