Delegation... it's a double-edged sword, isn’t it? On one hand, you can get so much more done if you focus on the things you do best and delegate the rest to other people (who may even do them better than you can). But on the other hand, it can be difficult to relinquish control, or to ask people to take on more work.
This article explores some of the ways you can make delegation feel a little easier, and features advice from the ever-helpful Pip Decks community.
How do you delegate tasks successfully?
As you might expect, there isn’t one straightforward answer to this question. Let’s assume a starting point - you’ve got a lot on your plate, and a willing team of people around you who are able to take on some of the work.
How to decide which tasks to delegate (and which to keep)
Some of the tasks on your list will be ones that you have sole responsibility for. Identify these and remove them from consideration. But what if that’s not as easy as it sounds? Don’t worry, there are tactics for that!
Approach one: a quick-and-dirty matrix
If you’ve read any books or listened to any podcasts about productivity recently, you’ll be familiar with the Eisenhower Matrix. It’s a super low-tech tool to help you rapidly decide what to do with each of the tasks on your list. Let’s take a look.
First, you draw two bisecting lines and label them as shown (the y axis shows increasing urgency, and the x shows increasing importance).
Then, on your matrix, place an X for each task that’s currently on your to-do list. For example, drafting a welcome message to a new starter on your team could be urgent and important, while renaming the files on a shared drive to use the internal naming convention would be important (probably), but not urgent.
Then you can quickly transfer the tasks into different piles as follows:
- Top-right quadrant: urgent and important. Do these tasks (yourself).
- Top-left quadrant: urgent, but not as important. Delegate these tasks!
- Bottom-right quadrant: important, but not so urgent. Schedule these for a later time/date.
- Bottom-left: not particularly urgent or important. Delete them.
Top tip: this is a great way to start or end your working week. It helps you keep everything on your radar and decide what to do with things before they stagnate in your inbox for too long.
Approach two: apply a little curiosity
Grab your to-do list and remove all the ones you have to do yourself. But not so fast! Take a little time to reflect on why you believe you can't delegate those tasks. Ask yourself some of the following questions to help you finetune your delegation process.
- If no one else has the skills to do this task, should we train/hire someone who does?
- If no one else has the authority/oversight required to do this task, can it be broken down into smaller tasks that others can help with?
- If this will be particularly challenging for someone else to do, is there anyone who could benefit from using this as an opportunity for development?
Then, you can either move that task (or some of it) into your ‘to delegate’ pile, or keep it on your own to-do list. Remember, this is just for tasks that you think you can't delegate. Ones you're sure you can delegate do not necessarily need to fit any of the those criteria.
So now you’ve got a list of tasks to delegate, you need to actually start doing it. Let’s assume you know who in your team is best suited to take on each task - or you’re happy for them to decide among themselves. How do you go about shuffling it out of your inbox, and into theirs?
Delegating leadership style
Your leadership style will inform how you delegate tasks. In the situational leadership model, however, one of the four types of leadership is the ‘delegating leadership style’. The same model suggests that the best managers adapt their approach through all four types of leadership. So, whatever your leadership style, here’s what you can learn (and apply) from that approach.
The benefits of delegation
Managers who show delegating leadership style behaviours are comfortable with sharing responsibility and authority with their team members. They delegate tasks, then allow their teammates to carry out those tasks with support and advice rather than strict instructions.
This is a particularly powerful way to build up employees’ self confidence, and to help them feel mastery over their work - which in turn results in higher motivation. It’s a win-win situation, if you can get it right! And getting it right means relaxing your control over the how things get done, and just focussing on the outcomes.
Here are some pretty nailed-on tactics to ensure you give yourself and your employee the best chance of success, so that letting going of control doesn't feel so scary.
Delegate tasks that play to your employees’ strengths
If the task has landed in your lap and you’re delegating it to someone more junior than you, it could be a great opportunity for them. They could learn some valuable new skills, work on a new project or otherwise just relish the chance to show you what they can do.
So choose the task and the employee carefully, and set them up for success. It’s okay to stretch someone and give them a challenge; it’s not a good idea to overwhelm them or ask them to do something that’s outside of their skills, experience or comfort level.
Additionally, factor in the time it will take to do the task well. Remember, someone else may take slightly longer to complete the task than you would, especially if it’s new to them. But they will get faster with experience, and the whole point of delegating is to get it off of your to-do list. Work in a little extra time, and make sure the person you are delegating to has the capacity to do a great job.
Pip Decks community's delegation tips
Kevin D says "Don't over delegate to your best team member. Over time, they may begin to resent doing the lion's share for the same pay." If you do find someone is consistently picking up extra work, you either need to examine if they have got additional time you could put to use, or if you should be giving them a pay rise! Will C mentioned that just asking who wants to take on the task is probably the first sensible step, with the option to rotate additional tasks between team members if no one volunteers.
Abdul mentions alignment and skills (read on for more on that) and says "How will you measure the outcome (not output)?" - a reminder to define what outcomes you want to see, rather than rigidly specifying deliverables/output.
And Barry F shared a great article about delegation models, including leadership and task delegation approaches.
If you want to refine how you delegate tasks, there are some great workshop tactics that could help. You could try running a Skills market to find out what skills (hidden or otherwise) people in your team have, and what they want to practise or learn. Roles and responsibilities is also great for helping your team share what they work on so that you all understand what each other do - and why. Finally, Who, what, when is another way to clearly set out who is responsible for the actions that come our of a workshop or meeting.
Clearly define the outcome
Make sure your employee knows exactly what deliverables are expected of them. Give as much free rein as you can in terms of how it gets done - who knows, they may find a new, better way to do it - but set boundaries in terms of what absolutely must be achieved. That helps them to plan, and to know how to achieve success.
It will also help if you let them know how and when they need to share updates with you, and what to do if they need some help. Work out how you’ll check in with them along the way, so that they don’t see your questions as a lack of trust or desire to control what they’re doing, but you also get the information you need.
Share resources and authority as needed
You’ll have built up an arsenal of tools and tricks to help you get things done. Offer some pointers to your teammates to ensure they have the benefit of everything you know. You might not realise how valuable this is to them - and if they succeed, so do you!
Top tip: depending on the task you're delegating, there might be a suitable Workshop Tactic to help them on their way.
While you're at it, make sure that they have the authority to do whatever needs to be done. Then make sure that they know it! And of course, inform anyone else in the business who might need to know.
Give feedback and credit
Once the task is done there are lots of ways you can help your teammate feel a sense of pride in their achievement. Try the following:
- Offer your thanks
- Ask them how they think it went
- Provide constructive feedback
- Let them know the impact their contribution has made
- Give credit when talking to others about the task
And if they did a good job, ask them if they’d like to do similar tasks in future. Keep a note of this work for your performance review process, use it in pay-rise negotiations and remember it when you are considering opportunities for their development.
Final thoughts on delegating tasks
So now you know how to choose the right tasks to delegate, how to brief them to the right person and what to do once the task has been completed. The only thing left to do is get some of those tasks off of your to-do list... and onto someone else's!