It feels like we’ve been talking about delegation forever, yet it’s still a challenge for today’s managers.
In my experience, many find it hard to walk the fine line between delegation, allocation and abdication. Let’s take a look at how you can do this more effectively.
Failing to delegate
Control freaks and paranoiacs find it difficult to let go or empower others, and this has a number of negative impacts. Failing to delegate appropriately to team members demonstrates a lack of faith in their abilities.
This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, where individuals lose confidence due to the perception that they aren’t competent, and become less competent as a result. High performing teams are built through trust and empathy.
Hoarding work that should be passed on to others means that you as a leader or manager aren’t organising your own workload effectively. This isn’t something you can suffer alone; your inability to juggle your responsibilities means you can’t provide the right support for your team, and prevents you from contributing to organisational objectives.
Neglecting to delegate prevents work from being completed by those with the most relevant skills. It’s extremely unlikely that you are better than each of your team members at every task that arises, and it’s essential you recognise where others have strengths you don’t. Modesty and proper recognition are not just about being liked, but about reaching the highest standards.
It’s important to recognise, however, that delegation is also about developing team members with the potential to excel, not just giving work to those who are already at the height of their ability. Refusing to allow less experienced team members to take responsibility for new tasks means they can’t develop in the right direction.
Delegating for the wrong reasons
Some managers find ‘delegation’ a useful way of washing their hands of unwanted responsibilities, or offloading tasks they feel are beneath them. This is better known as dumping, and is as destructive as not delegating at all.
Ideally, your team should we a well-oiled machine, where each member has clearly defined responsibilities that contribute towards shared objectives. While it can’t always work this smoothly in practice, each time you dump a task on someone, you are effectively throwing a spanner in the works. Remember that you have hired each person to fulfil a specific role, and every time you ask them to do something irrelevant, you are preventing them from doing this properly.
Dumping also has a less direct effect on productivity. It gradually creates resentment among team members, eroding engagement. As you continue to demonstrate that you don’t respect their time or responsibilities, they eventually stop respecting them as well.
Achieving effective delegation
Knowing your team’s strengths and weaknesses
Delegation is a great way to develop key skills in the right people. Therefore, a requirement for effective delegation is a sound understanding of the potential of your team.
Even if you manage a large team of people all doing the same role, there will always be a range of skill-sets and areas for development in play. It’s your job to make sure that together, your team builds the full spectrum of abilities needed, and to keep track of who has particular strengths and weaknesses. You will then have a good sense of who to develop in different ways at different times.
Delegation always needs to be accompanied by good communication. It is often a useful exercise in training and developing team members, and in these cases, you will probably need to provide clear guidance throughout the process.
But even when you’re not supervising the completion of the task, you must offer a clear idea of what the objectives and expected outcomes are.
If you’re going to delegate something to a team member, you need to be able to trust them to do a good job.
There’s little point in handing over a piece of work, only to insist everything is done your way. Not only does this require as much of your time as doing it yourself, but it prevents the person completing the project from utilising their own skills and judgement, and from learning from the experience.
The culture of your organisation has much to do with how likely you are to delegate, and how effectively you do it. In an organisation that is risk-averse or that is focused on compliance, delegation is most likely to be allocation, where your people are tasked with completing some activity but have little freedom to make decisions or act as they see fit.
While this appears to avoid risk and ensure consistency, it actually robs people of their creativity and turns them into ‘drones’. Ultimately, that may prove to be a bigger risk than their perceived potential for error, as you will disengage those that have the most potential to grow and contribute. Losing talent, sacrificing productivity, and discouraging innovation is not the best set of outcomes, I’m sure you’ll agree.
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Focus on your objectives
So how should you do it ‘right’? I recommend considering Adair’s Action Centred Leadership model, which says you must find the point of virtuous intersection between three overlapping circles:
- Achieving the desired outcome of the task
- Stretching the capabilities of the individual
- Growing the capacity and power of the team
The first is about the team member’s ability to complete the task well enough. This isn’t necessarily to your own standard, as in many cases it is an opportunity for practice that will help them grow, and you can debrief and coach them afterwards.
The second means you should also delegate tasks in a way that challenges people, not just to the safest pair of hands. Only delegating to those who can already do it will not enable you to achieve the third objective of developing the capabilities of the team