What does it mean to delegate?
Delegation is the act of redirecting tasks and initiatives to other team members. You might delegate work to distribute responsibility more evenly or because the task is more relevant to another employee's priorities, skills, or interests.
Knowing when and how to delegate makes you a better manager. Delegating tasks can lighten your workload, but according to Dr. Scott Williams, professor of management at Wright State University, it does much more than getting stuff off your plate.
“Delegation can also be a clear sign that you respect your subordinates’ abilities and that you trust their discretion,” Williams writes. “Employees who feel they are trusted and respected tend to have a higher level of commitment to their work, their organization, and, especially, their managers.”
Managers free up time to focus on higher-value activities while keeping employees engaged with greater autonomy.
Why do managers fail to delegate?
Many managers find delegation uncomfortable. For example, one research reveals that women leaders feel guiltier about delegating than male leaders.
Delegating does not mean you cannot handle things yourself or are not a good manager. Delegation improves your ability to identify projects that others can execute and benefit from the experience of doing the work.
There are many possible reasons why people might be afraid of handing over tasks or responsibilities:
- Time. Lack of time is the most commonly used reason for not delegating. It represents the belief that delegating tasks takes more time than doing the work. Those delegating work should ensure they give clear instructions and provide guidance, praise, and reassurance to build confidence.
- Identity. Over the years, you have invested in your area of expertise and your technical skill set. It is crucial to understand that you will not hand over the entire job – just specific tasks. And you will still play a vital role while leading the team and remain responsible for the work.
- Emotional attachment. Some people are too emotionally invested in the work to assign it to someone else. Letting go can be challenging, but accepting that you can’t do everything yourself is paramount. Remind yourself that your team wants to be successful just like you do. If your employees succeed, you succeed.
- Guilt. You may feel guilty when assigning work to your colleagues. “Managers often mistake delegation for passing off work,” writes Harvey Mackay, founder of MackayMitchell Envelope Co. “So they don’t do it, and they wind up wasting their time as well as the company’s time and resources.” Delegation is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of a strong leader.
- Trust. There may be a person (or a couple of people) on your team who you don’t trust to execute tasks. Maybe they don’t yet have the needed skill level or have not performed to your expectations in the past. One study found that two psychological processes make people more reluctant to delegate work: the self-enhancement effect and the faith in supervision effect. The bottom line, many trust themselves to do excellent work more than they trust others.
- Accountability. When you delegate a task, you give up the responsibility for its execution. But, as a manager, you are still ultimately accountable for the success or failure of that task. You are measured and rewarded - or possibly blamed - for your team's output.
How to delegate (and what should you avoid)?
What is the best way to delegate work so you can fight the fear of delegation, build an efficient team, and work faster? Here is a step-by-step guide on what to do:
Know when to delegate
Delegation occurs along a spectrum. The lowest level happens when you tell other people what to do. It offers little opportunity for employees to try new approaches. The most empowering form of delegation occurs when you can give up most of your control over the project to the employee.
Communicate your intentions and expectations
Use one-on-ones and team meetings to clarify individual and team goals and the distribution of work across team members. Try to make the best match between assignments and individuals to enhance engagement. Provide all the information and instructions the person needs for the task.
Assign tasks based on aptitude
When employees receive a task in an area they excel, they are more inclined to enjoy the work. As a leader, you should consider the skills of your employees, their willingness to learn, and their working styles and interests. The person you delegated will be able to carry out the work more effectively if they are capable, coachable, and interested. Your goal is to make teamwork a positive experience.
Offer training and support
Offer whatever training and resources your employees may need to complete their new tasks. Employees are motivated to complete the tasks when they feel qualified with the proper training. Let your team members know that you are available. Rather than micromanaging, provide guidance and constructive feedback.
Hold people accountable
Delegate means that you have transferred authority for the task to someone else. But, as a leader, you still have to hold them accountable. Give others the benefit of the doubt, and don’t be mean-spirited. One missed deadline at work deserves a stern warning, not a firing. Repeated deadline problems may warrant a cut in pay or responsibilities, however.
Show your appreciation
Finally, make sure you take the time to say “thank you” to your employees and let them know you appreciate the contributions that each one made to the project. Congratulating everyone for a job well done can help to keep office morale at a high point.
Delegation practices to avoid:
Give your team members the time and space to do the work and avoid checking in too frequently.
Don’t take back the delegated tasks
Even if things are not going well, stick with the person and dial-up your level of support.
Don’t fixate on the negative
Allow for hiccups and small failures. Keep the positive vibe and ensure that you don’t squash enthusiasm.
Don’t refuse new concepts
Delegating means transferring ownership of the work to another person. Their end product will be different from what you would have done. Embrace the diversity of thought and allow for their creative expression to shine.
Don’t present the work of others as your own or without proper credit
Be transparent about who is doing the work and give them credit by name in meetings and written communications.
Don’t give up
Becoming an expert at delegating is a journey of fits and starts. Even with 20 years of leadership experience, delegation challenges can still arise.
Now that you know the DOs and DON’Ts of the delegating route, you need to understand how to delegate tasks so you can reap all the benefits without facing problems.
While theoretically, delegating tasks to your team may seem easy and practical, it can often be quite hard to master.
Delegation tips and techniques
Here are some tips and techniques to use so you know just how to delegate tasks.
1. Identify the task you will delegate
Identify the tasks you currently have to complete. Decide which ones must be completed by you and which can be undertaken by someone else.
Jenny Blake, a career and business strategist, suggests conducting an audit with the six T’s to determine the tasks you should delegate.
- Tiny Tasks are never urgent, and even if they take a few minutes, they take you out of the flow of more strategic work. For example, registering for a conference or approving a vacation for an employee.
- Tedious Tasks are simple and usually mindless to perform. Such tasks require little skill. For example, you can easily delegate someone else to search for personal data in your employee directory.
- Time-Consuming Tasks, although essential and complex, are time-consuming. For instance, someone else can gather the initial 80% of data for a comprehensive HR report. You can easily step in when the task is 80% complete and give approval, oversight, and direction on the next steps.
- Teachable Tasks can be translated into a system and passed along, with you still providing quality checks and final approval. For example, teach one of your direct reports how to track attendance.
- Terrible At are tasks on your plate but do not fall into your strengths and you do not feel equipped to do. You take far longer than people skilled in this area and still produce a subpar result. For instance, you should let others spot absenteeism and allocate human capital if they are better.
- Time-Sensitive Tasks are those that are time-sensitive but compete with other priorities you have. It is unlikely you will be able to complete everything on time.
2. Identify who you will delegate the tasks to
After deciding which tasks to delegate, you need to establish to who you will delegate them. Consider the strengths and skillsets of the members of your team and their schedules as well to see whether they can take on the task you will assign them.
3. Delegate with trust and fairness
Once you have identified the tasks and persons, it is time to assign the items to your team. When doing so, you want to ensure you are not just handing over duties but preparing them to complete them successfully, with the direction and context they will need. Do not set them up for failure when you assign tasks; this will lose the trust of your team.
4. Feedback and gratitude
Foster open communication in your team by receiving and giving feedback for effective delegation.
Use this opportunity to show appreciation. Showing gratitude will boost the morale and motivation of your team to perform well in the future.
5. Monitoring delegated tasks
While we have mentioned above that you don’t want to micromanage and ensure that your team has the authority and feels the responsibility to complete tasks assigned to them, you may still want to get some knowledge about how work is progressing.
You can use the timesheets feature to allow your team to track the time they are spending on your tasks.
Main benefits of task delegation
The inability to delegate tasks in the company reduces team efficiency. Here are the benefits that make delegation vital.
- Focus on the most significant tasks – delegating tasks with a lower priority allows you to focus on critical challenges of the company.
- Increasing the efficiency of employees – employees who take over duties have a chance to demonstrate and develop their competencies.
- Reducing stress – it may be stressful for a manager to delegate responsibility to another person for a given task. However, it is more stressful to control the entire company and take on more work than you can get done. In the worst case, it can even lead to professional burnout.
- The possibility of a better-done delegated task – you do not have to like all your responsibilities. The delegation of a part of the work will bring more satisfaction to another person in the company, who will complete the task better and with high commitment.
- Avoid doing too many things at once – only 24 hours a day – so it is worth managing time as efficiently as possible. The more duties to perform, the less time to devote to each of them.
- Improving communication with the team – by delegating tasks to employees, the manager shows trust. The team feels appreciated and will know that they can turn for help if there is a problem. Contact with the team will increase, and thus – communication with them will improve.
- Increasing profits in the company – delegating tasks that others can perform will increase the profit in the company. Outsourcing work means more time for direct sales and contact with the client, without whom the company does not exist.
The art of delegating tasks
Separating responsibilities is not an easy task and requires enormous commitment from both sides, but as you can see, it has significant benefits.
Learning to delegate is a win-win-win situation. Your employees win because they get chances to grow and develop. Your company wins because they get more output, increased retention, and better-engaged employees. And lastly, you win because it improves your reputation, and it will put you in a position where not only are you in demand for higher opportunities, but you are free to take them.