Delegating tasks is an indispensable element of a team leader’s responsibilities. Effective delegation is what makes a team function as a well-oiled machine, yet how to successfully do it remains a tough nut to crack for many managers.
Some managers try to do everything on their own while others delegate too much with too little direction. Neither course is good for the manager or the team.
In this post we’ll offer some practical ways to handle delegation. We’ll also share tips from inspiring business leaders to guide your delegation efforts.
Assign tasks based on skills and experience
Once you’ve identified tasks that can be transferred to other members of your team, you need to consider who the best person is to take them on. You need to make sure that the individual you select has the set of skills needed to tackle the task and that it’s not too easy for them.
It’s useful to take a look at how people get into the flow state when you’re in the process of assessing the person to delegate to. There should be a moderate level of difficulty but people should still feel in control and not get overwhelmed.
You can see where the flow state lies in this pie chart:
Another important part of the selection is to determine the values and character traits a person has. Businesses of all sizes, from startups to Fortune 100 companies, find the Caliper Profile test and Gallup StrengthsFinder test useful for this.
Provide thorough direction and context
Delivering the task to the team member is not enough. You need to prepare and give them all the instructions and documents they might need in the process.
For instance, when Dave (the founder of Hubstaff) needs help piecing together a growth post, he creates a thorough outline and complementary video to give the writer direction. This cuts down on the back-and-forth with the writer after the draft is delivered.
Here’s an example of an outline and video Dave created for this post on sales vs marketing.
Take the time and develop the discipline to map out exactly what you’re asking for. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure — Michelle Randall
For more important tasks, give the person context in addition to the practical aspects. Explain how the task fits within a larger project and mission. You can even communicate the implications of missing the deadline and how it will affect other team members.
Foster personal responsibility and ownership
It’s not enough to assign a task to a team member. You need to give people full authority over the work so they feel engaged to complete it successfully. You also have to make sure that when you transfer a task, the assigned person has taken complete responsibility over it.
Fostering a culture of accountability in your team starts with including team members in objective setting meetings. You can work together to decide what the milestones for a task are. Upon reaching each of them, they can check if the performance matches the expectations that have been outlined.
You can also try out delegation methods such as the “decision tree” used by Fierce Inc.
Fierce assigns a task based on different levels of responsibility: root, trunk, branch, or leaf. On each level, team members have a certain amount of ownership, which is clearly defined. This way it’s clear when to consult a manager and when to handle decisions independently.
Set aside time for feedback and gratitude
Going through the cycle of delegation requires you to give and receive feedback so that you foster an open atmosphere in the team. Set aside feedback time to give people a chance to discuss the difficulties they encounter and their suggestions for future delegation.
Feedback is the most important part of the delegation process, and it works both ways — Jayson DeMers
You can use this opportunity to show your gratitude for their commitment and efforts. This will make them feel appreciated and boost their motivation. Or you can offer constructive criticism paired with encouragement to help them tackle their shortcomings.
As a manager, you can employ the feedback loop to learn about the areas you’re gaining experience in as a delegator, or where you need to improve.
Master delegation in your team
Distributing tasks efficiently lets you stay on top of your own work while helping team members gain new skills and get comfortable taking ownership of tasks.
Delegation is also a learning experience for managers and team members alike, as it allows all of you to develop trust and get used to sharing feedback and mutual appreciation.
Do you have any tips for successful delegation that we didn’t mention here? Let us know in the comments.
Ralitsa is a marketing writer with a true passion for creating meaningful and useful content. Her focus is on how individuals and teams can be more productive and happy with their work.
Accomplish a lot more by delegating.
Even "Super You" needs help and support. There is no shame in asking for assistance. Push aside the pride and show respect for the talent others can bring to the table.
And, remember that there is no such thing as a single-handed success: when you include and acknowledge all those in your corner, you propel yourself, your teammates and your supporters to greater heights.– Author Unknown
Do you feel stressed and overloaded? Or that your career seems stalled? If so, then you may need to brush up your delegation skills!
If you work on your own, there's only a limited amount that you can do, however hard you work. You can only work so many hours in a day. There are only so many tasks you can complete in these hours. There are only so many people you can help by doing these tasks. And, because the number of people you can help is limited, your success is limited.
However, if you're good at your job, people will want much more than this from you. This can lead to a real sense of pressure and work overload: you can't do everything that everyone wants, and this can leave you stressed, unhappy, and feeling that you're letting people down.
On the positive side, however, you're being given a tremendous opportunity if you can find a way around this limitation. If you can realize this opportunity, you can be genuinely successful!
One of the most common ways of overcoming this limitation is to learn how to delegate your work to other people. If you do this well, you can quickly build a strong and successful team of people, well able to meet the demands that others place. This is why delegation is such an important skill, and is one that you absolutely have to learn!
Why People Don't Delegate
To figure out how to delegate properly, it's important to understand why people avoid it. Quite simply, people don't delegate because it takes a lot of up-front effort.
After all, which is easier: designing and writing content for a brochure that promotes a new service you helped spearhead, or having other members of your team do it? You know the content inside and out. You can spew benefit statements in your sleep. It would be relatively straightforward for you to sit down and write it. It would even be fun! The question is, "Would it be a good use of your time?"
While on the surface it's easier to do it yourself than explain the strategy behind the brochure to someone else, there are two key reasons that mean that it's probably better to delegate the task to someone else:
- First, if you have the ability to spearhead a new campaign, the chances are that your skills are better used further developing the strategy, and perhaps coming up with other new ideas. By doing the work yourself, you're failing to make the best use of your time.
- Second, by meaningfully involving other people in the project, you develop those people's skills and abilities. This means that next time a similar project comes along, you can delegate the task with a high degree of confidence that it will be done well, with much less involvement from you.
Delegation allows you to make the best use of your time and skills, and it helps other people in the team grow and develop to reach their full potential in the organization.
When to Delegate
Delegation is a win-win when done appropriately, however, that does not mean that you can delegate just anything. To determine when delegation is most appropriate there are five key questions you need to ask yourself:
- Is there someone else who has (or can be given) the necessary information or expertise to complete the task? Essentially is this a task that someone else can do, or is it critical that you do it yourself?
- Does the task provide an opportunity to grow and develop another person's skills?
- Is this a task that will recur, in a similar form, in the future?
- Do you have enough time to delegate the job effectively? Time must be available for adequate training, for questions and answers, for opportunities to check progress, and for rework if that is necessary.
- Is this a task that I should delegate? Tasks critical for long-term success (for example, recruiting the right people for your team) genuinely do need your attention.
If you can answer "yes" to at least some of the above questions, then it could well be worth delegating this job.
Other factors that contribute to the delegability of a task include:
- The project's timelines/deadlines.
- How much time is there available to do the job?
- Is there time to redo the job if it's not done properly the first time?
- What are the consequences of not completing the job on time?
- Your expectations or goals for the project or task(s), including:
- How important is it that the results are of the highest possible quality?
- Is an "adequate" result good enough?
- Would a failure be crucial?
- How much would failure impact other things?
That being said, having all these conditions present is no guarantee that the delegated task will be completed successfully either. You also need to consider to whom you will delegate the task and how you will do it.
The Who and How of Delegating
Having decided to delegate a task there are some other factors to consider as well. As you think these through you can use our free Delegation Log worksheet to keep record of the tasks you choose to delegate and who you want to delegate them to.
To Whom Should You Delegate?
The factors to consider here include:
- The experience, knowledge and skills of the individual as they apply to the delegated task.
- What knowledge, skills and attitude does the person already have?
- Do you have time and resources to provide any training needed?
- The individual's preferred work style.
- How independent is the person?
- What does he or she want from his or her job?
- What are his or her long-term goals and interests, and how do these align with the work proposed?
- The current workload of this person.
- Does the person have time to take on more work?
- Will you delegating this task require reshuffling of other responsibilities and workloads?
When you first start to delegate to someone, you may notice that he or she takes longer than you do to complete tasks. This is because you are an expert in the field and the person you have delegated to is still learning. Be patient: if you have chosen the right person to delegate to, and you are delegating correctly, you will find that he or she quickly becomes competent and reliable.
How Should You Delegate?
Use the following principles to delegate successfully:
- Clearly articulate the desired outcome. Begin with the end in mind and specify the desired results.
- Clearly identify constraints and boundaries. Where are the lines of authority, responsibility and accountability? Should the person:
- Wait to be told what to do?
- Ask what to do?
- Recommend what should be done, and then act?
- Act, and then report results immediately?
- Initiate action, and then report periodically?
- Where possible, include people in the delegation process. Empower them to decide what tasks are to be delegated to them and when.
- Match the amount of responsibility with the amount of authority. Understand that you can delegate some responsibility, however you can't delegate away ultimate accountability. The buck stops with you!
- Delegate to the lowest possible organizational level. The people who are closest to the work are best suited for the task, because they have the most intimate knowledge of the detail of everyday work. This also increases workplace efficiency, and helps to develop people.
- Provide adequate support, and be available to answer questions. Ensure the project's success through ongoing communication and monitoring as well as provision of resources and credit.
- Focus on results. Concern yourself with what is accomplished, rather than detailing how the work should be done: Your way is not necessarily the only or even the best way! Allow the person to control his or her own methods and processes. This facilitates success and trust.
- Avoid "upward delegation." If there is a problem, don't allow the person to shift responsibility for the task back to you: ask for recommended solutions; and don't simply provide an answer.
- Build motivation and commitment. Discuss how success will impact financial rewards, future opportunities, informal recognition, and other desirable consequences. Provide recognition where deserved.
- Establish and maintain control.
- Discuss timelines and deadlines.
- Agree on a schedule of checkpoints at which you'll review project progress.
- Make adjustments as necessary.
- Take time to review all submitted work.
In thoroughly considering these key points prior to and during the delegation process you will find that you delegate more successfully.
Now, once you have worked through the above steps, make sure you brief your team member appropriately. Take time to explain why they were chosen for the job, what's expected from them during the project, the goals you have for the project, all timelines and deadlines and the resources on which they can draw. And agree a schedule for checking-in with progress updates.
Lastly, make sure that the team member knows that you want to know if any problems occur, and that you are available for any questions or guidance needed as the work progresses.
We all know that as managers, we shouldn't micromanage. However, this doesn't mean we must abdicate control altogether: In delegating effectively, we have to find the sometimes-difficult balance between giving enough space for people to use their abilities to best effect, while still monitoring and supporting closely enough to ensure that the job is done correctly and effectively.
The Importance of Full Acceptance
When delegated work is delivered back to you, set aside enough time to review it thoroughly. If possible, only accept good quality, fully-complete work. If you accept work you are not satisfied with, your team member does not learn to do the job properly. Worse than this, you accept a whole new tranche of work that you will probably need to complete yourself. Not only does this overload you, it means that you don't have the time to do your own job properly.
Of course, when good work is returned to you, make sure to both recognize and reward the effort. As a leader, you should get in the practice of complimenting members of your team every time you are impressed by what they have done. This effort on your part will go a long way toward building team member's self-confidence and efficiency, both of which will be improved on the next delegated task; hence, you both win.
At first sight, delegation can feel like more hassle than it's worth, however by delegating effectively, you can hugely expand the amount of work that you can deliver.
When you arrange the workload so that you are working on the tasks that have the highest priority for you, and other people are working on meaningful and challenging assignments, you have a recipe for success.
To delegate effectively, choose the right tasks to delegate, identify the right people to delegate to, and delegate in the right way. There's a lot to this, but you'll achieve so much more once you're delegating effectively!
Check how effectively you're delegating now with our "How Well Do You Delegate?" quiz.
How to Delegate
Start by specifying the outcome you desire to the people you trust to deliver it. Establish controls, identify limits to the work and provide sufficient support, but resist upward delegation. Keep up to date with progress, and focus on results rather than procedures. Finally, when the work is completed, give recognition where it’s deserved.
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