The hero is in the midst of a mission, along with his Five-Man Band and a bunch of Red Shirts. He needs to accomplish some minor and relatively mundane task, which is nevertheless bothersome or unwelcome. So he delegates the job to The Lancer. "Lancer, dig a trench."
The Lancer nods, then turns to The Smart Guy. "Smart Guy, dig a trench."
The Smart Guy nods, then turns to The Big Guy. "Big Guy, dig a trench."
And it goes on and on.
The task to be done gets delegated all the way to the unfortunate who is, socially or literally, at the bottom of the ladder. Occasionally, perhaps with a bit of applied Politeness Judo, the task gets delegated back to the leader himself.
For extra fun, the task in question may be trivial to those near the beginning of the relay, but stupendously difficult for those at the end.
Definitely an example of Truth in Television.
There was an Australian McDonald's ad where a boss asked his secretary to get him an order, who then asked someone else to get them something. It kept going down until the list reached a guy in a dingy basement sort of office. He then makes the work experience kid get the stuff, which has accumulated several A4 pages.
An Australian ad for a courier company had a boss yelling at his subordinate that "If this package isn't in [City X] by tomorrow, it's your job!" This order (and threat) is then echoes down the chain of command until it ends up with some poor dude in the mail room, who calls the courier company.
Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator: A huge gun fails to fire properly, and the bullet just drops out of the barrel. The general turns to the colonel and says: "Check the bullet". The colonel turns to the captain and gives the same order. The captain gives the order to the lieutenant. The lieutenant delegates to the private (Chaplin). The private turns to his left... and finds out that there's nobody left to delegate to, so he has to do it himself.
The Disney Movie The Cat From Outer Space did this as a running gag several times with a set of Army officers led by Harry Morgan who were chasing the titular cat.
General Stilton: *gives command*. Colonel!
Sergeant: Yes sir!
Bugsy Malone. "Get Babyface, get Babyface, get Babyface..." and so on down the line until they actually get to Babyface.
Home Alone 2 did a relay giving Kevin's bag to Kevin, from Mom, to Dad, through all the kids (except for Buzz), down to Fuller...who then starts a Delegation Relay back up the chain to inform the parents that Kevin missed the flight.
In Braveheart Hamish's Dad gets shot with an arrow. That night, Hamish is handed a red hot poker with the instruction: "You do it. I'll hold him down." Hamish then looks at the poker, and hands another nameless scot the poker and tells him, "You do it. I'll hold him down." The nameless scot then does what he's told and Hilarity Ensues.
Silent Movie has a meeting at Engulf and Devour. After getting some bad news about profits, Engulf orders Devour to punish the other men present. He slaps each of them in turn, only to get slapped himself by the last one. The next time this happens, Devour tries to invoke this trope, slapping only the first man and telling them to "Pass it on". When it gets to the last man, he slaps first, causing the slap to go all the way up the chain to Devour.
The 1990's Czech comedy film Tank Battalion (adapted from the novel Republic of Whores) opens with the commander ordering his underling to stand guard and threatening retribution if he doesn't wake him up for tomorrow's exercise. The underling does the same to his 2IC, going down the line until a private is told to stand guard. Naturally with his superiors bunking off the private does the same, and they all get in trouble with the political commissar for sleeping in.
In the Discworld novel Eric, during the siege of Tsort, the invading squad unexpectedly discover a small child. The Captain tasks the Lieutenant with guarding the child, who instructs the Sergeant to keep an eye on the kid who tells the Corporal to look after the lad who tells the Private to watch the sprog. The private looks around to see whom he can pass the buck to, and realises that he's the Butt Monkey.
Another Discworld example, in Guards! Guards!: Captain Vimes tells Sergeant Colon to (force) open a gate. Colon tells Lance-Constable Carrot to open the gate. Carrot knocks gently to ask the people on the other side to open it.
In Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, this is not actually played for laughs, but rather used as social satire to show how ridiculously overblown royal ceremonies were in Tudor England.
In Ozma of Oz, the Tin Woodsman's army consists of 100 soldiers, only one of whom is not an officer. The one time they actually fight, All the generals give the order to attack, which is then passed down to all the officers of the next rank down, and so forth until every officer has sounded the order to charge in decreasing order of rank, at which point the one private attacks the Nomes.
Also occurs in Tik-Tok of Oz, with the Army of Oogaboo.
Vernon: Get the mail, Dudley. Dudley: Make Harry get it. Vernon: Get the mail, Harry. Harry: Make Dudley get it. Vernon: Poke him with your Smelting stick, Dudley.
A variant in Red Storm Rising: General Alekseyev wants to get a tank division moving so he walks up to the divisional commander and chews him out for wasting time. The commander heads off to shout at his regimental commanders, who go to scream at their battalion commanders and so on. Ten minutes later the screaming has percolated down to squad level and so the division finally starts accomplishing some actual movement.
A Delegation Relay is used as a safety device in Mary Higgins Clark's While My Pretty One Sleeps. A powerful man wants someone killed. The hitman he speaks to gives the job to another hitman, who passes it on to someone else, and so on. By the time the assignment has filtered down through several people, the one doing the actual killing has no idea who ordered it or why. That way, if he's arrested, he won't be able to tell the police anything significant about the crime.
The final season episode of M*A*S*H "Give And Take" had the officers passing the buck on being Charity Collection Officer, starting and ending with Winchester.
Ashes to Ashes uses this amongst a group, when faced with acquiring evidence from a chemical toilet. (Played with in that the last link in the chain, who's dating the guy in front of her, simply rolls her eyes and tells him to get on with it.)
Star Trek: The Next Generation did this in the first episode where the Borg appeared. A Borg appears on the ship observing, as Picard, most of the command, and a Red Shirt watch. Picard orders Worf to deal with it, then Worf turns to the Red Shirt and tells him to deal with it, with predictable results. It's an unusual instance of Worf being Genre Savvy.
The teaser of Star Trek: Voyager's Lower Deck Episode is one long shot in which we follow the progress of an order from Captain Janeway to the schlub who ends up carrying it out. The show takes the opportunity to throw in a neat little visual metaphor, too: the camera zooms in on Janeway's office on deck 1, where the order originates, and follows the Delegation Relay all the way to deck 15, literally the ship's lowest deck.
Rik: (louder) There's someone at the door, Vyvyan!
Vyvyan: (louder) There's someone at the door, Mike!
Neil: (louder) There's someone at the door, Neil?
A beautiful circular example occurs on The West Wing when Leo is delegating the relatively pointless task of picking a subject for the next postage stamp:
Josh: [laughs at Toby]
Josh: It's just ... you have to do the stamp thing.
Toby: Leo, I could use some help with the stamp thing.
Leo: No problem, get Josh to handle it.
Toby: Congratulations, you're picking the next stamp.
Josh: Wow, that happened fast.
Game of Thrones. During the Battle of Blackwater, Hand of the King Tyrion Lannister is about to put his plan into action, while doing his best to ignore King Joffrey who keeps chiming in with stupid questions.
Joffrey: Hound, tell the Hand that his king has asked him a question. The Hound:(exasperated) The king has asked you a question. Tyrion:(not looking up) Ser Lancel, tell the Hound to tell the King that the Hand is extremely busy. Lancel: The Hand of the King would like me to tell you to tell the King that—
A Truth in Television closed-circle variant, immortalized in Dilbert: An employee asking a question directed at higher-ups may find that the task of answering it is delegated back down... to the same employee.
A third Dilbert example: The Pointy-Haired Boss gives Dilbert a task. Dilbert says he's too busy, so the boss tells him to delegate it to Alice. She tells the boss she's too busy, so he tells her to delegate to Asok. He's also too busy, and told to delegate it to a random employee. The employee accepts but doesn't mention the fact that he's quitting the next day. The boss thinks "I solved four problems today."
Yet another Dilbert example, Dilbert's company is out-sourcing their customer support jobs to Asia but the company they outsourced to outsourced it to a different country going on until it was eventually outsourced back to Dilbert's company who underbids everyone else and lies about hold times. The Boss's solution to this? Raise their prices.
Happens in FoxTrot when Andy asks Peter to take the garbage. Peter says that Paige owes him a favour so that Andy should ask her. Paige says that Jason owes her a favour so Andy should ask him. Jason says that Peter owes him a favour so Andy should ask him. Andy asks Peter (again) who then willingly takes out the garbage.
One episode of the X-Men animated series had Magneto and Mystique turn on Apocalypse. In an example of the "for extra fun" variation, the incredibly powerful Apocalypse summons all his henchmen, then tells the reasonably powerful Mr Sinister to kill them. Sinister then delegates this task to Vertigo, whose only power is giving people vertigo.
An episode of The Simpsons has Mr. Burns order a subordinate that a package must absolutely be mailed today. A Delegation Relay ensues, ultimately ending at Homer, who promptly runs the package back to Mr. Burns's office, who angrily tells Homer that his name is on the return address.
Also from The Simpsons:
Marge: (to Homer) Did you close the gate?
[Gate pictured open]
Homer: Oh, you mean tonight. Bart, close the gate!
Bart: Lisa, close the gate!
Lisa: Close the gate, Maggie.
[Maggie, being a baby, just lies there]
The third episode of Transformers Prime: Optimus leaves Arcee in charge of the team (including the humans) while he and Ratchet leave on a mission. Arcee promptly goes off on patrol with Bumblebee and leaves Bulkhead in charge. Repeat until there are only two kid sidekicks left in the entire base.
Jack:...You're in charge.
Raf: In charge of who?
Also, when the Decepticons lose control of their space bridge.
Megatron: Starscream! What is happening? Starcream: Soundwave! What is happening?!
According to an urban legend in the U.S. military, a promotion test for the rank of sergeant once included this question; "You, the sergeant, have been assigned by the lieutenant above you to erect a 15-foot flagpole at the end of the parade ground. At your command is a squad consisting of ten privates and a corporal. What do you do?" The correct answer, so the story goes, is to order the corporal to erect the flagpole. Variants include: "You, the lieutenant..." and "how to dig a trench" where the correct answer was "Sergeant, dig me a trench."
This puzzle is supposedly popular at the American military academies, due to the fact that most of the cadets and midshipmen at these academies are traditionally training to be The Engineernote The original US Military Academy, Westpoint, was started as part of a plan to improve coastal fortifications and logistics in the US in order to keep the Brits with Battleships from invading.. Given this emphasis in academics, many of the cadets were prone to overthinking it, when the best use of their time as an officer would be to delegate it to an NCO who probably had years more experience actually doing just that sort of thing.
This is actually sensible in any organization with specialists, military or civilian. Why does a physician in private practice hire people just to handle his billing? So he can see more patients, greatly increasing his practice's profitability. Keep your attorneys on tasks that require an attorney and pay a paralegal's wage to someone who can take over those tasks and a receptionist just to screen the calls and keep the schedule. Examples are ubiquitous.
Another variant involves summoning the NCO's and officers above some prospective corporals or sergeants, and having the highest ranking one order the prospects to dig a trench five feet wide, ten feet long, and six feet deep. The orders get passed down and become six inches deep. The correct answer is to verify the orders from one's immediate superior, then shut up and execute.
There's a joke about military officers discussing how much sex with their wives was work and how much was pleasure. The Colonel says it was 75% work, 25% pleasure. The Major said it was 50-50. The Sergeant said it was 25% work, 75% pleasure. The Private says it was 100% pleasure because if there was any work involved, he would have been ordered to do it.
In many armed forces, such as those of the US, the officers are expected to be generalists. Highly educated and (intheory) well trained, but they should not be getting lost in the details of a particular task when they should be looking at the bigger picture. For more specialized job knowledge, they have the enlisted troops and the Non Comissioned Officers, who will often have years of practical experience, compared to the officers.
Truth in Television in hospitals. A doctor might be handed a case he might not want to do, due to it either being disgusting or him being swamped with work. He hands it down to the guy below him on the food chain. Occasionally this can continue until it hits the Interns, who can't hand it off to anyone.
Also happens in reverse when someone (often a nurse) finds a problem he's not qualified to deal with and tells the lowest-ranking person who is. If that person puts it off too long, the nurse might go up the chain of command until he gets to someone with enough spare time to take care of it. After that, the person who ought to have done it generally gets an earful.