If on Friday evening most of your employees are at home while your managers are in the office finishing a project, they probably don’t know how to delegate work effectively.
Not only does delegating work free up a manager’s time to focus on her most important tasks, but it also empowers team members and establishes trust between employees and managers, strengthening the overall team.
While many managers understand that delegating work is crucial for being successful in business, they still end up doing everything themselves, or they struggle with delegating and micromanaging.
Use the below questions to help your managers more easily transition from doing to leading.
· What does it mean to delegate tasks?
· Why is it important to delegate work?
· What is an example of delegation?
· Why do people fail at delegating?
· What can a manager delegate?
· What tasks should not be delegated?
· When shouldn’t you delegate?
· How can you effectively delegate work?
· How can you delegate tasks better?
At the end of this post, you’ll find a quiz to measure how well someone is delegating tasks.
What does it mean to delegate tasks?
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To delegate a task is to entrust the responsibility of completing that task to a member of your team, empowering him to make decisions and solve problems.
Why is it important to delegate work?
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. —African proverb
There is a limit to what someone can accomplish in one day. Effective delegation can increase productivity, communication, and collaboration while reducing workplace stress and missed deadlines. When teams work together on initiatives, people are more likely to stay aligned and on-task.
Once work is delegated to employees, companies will start to see positive changes, such as:
- Realized goals in every department
- Faster company-wide growth
- New opportunities for innovation
Leadership specifically will benefit from delegation because managers will be able to:
- Focus on leading people and ensuring the team is operating productively
- Tackle projects aligned to their role
- Consider the big picture of strategic initiatives, enabling them to spot possible roadblocks and understand processes
- Improve leadership skills, challenging team members and helping them grow
When a manager is an expert delegator, team members:
- Grow to trust the leadership and overall organization
- Learn new skills and work on projects they may not have otherwise had access to
- Gain the freedom to build internal networks with other groups within the organization, increasing overall levels of influence in the company
- Are more motivated and productive because they know they are being trusted to do their best work
What does effective delegation look like?
If productivity and building a strong culture within a company is in everyone’s best interest, then why do so many companies struggle with delegating? Let’s take a look at a couple of example scenarios.
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Scenario 1: A small company is experiencing growth, but there are only so many hours in the day to handle the increased workload and meet new goals; the managers must be both strategists and operators. The managers are overloaded, tired, and on the verge of burning out, but they don’t have time to recruit, interview, hire, and train a new employee—and then delegate the workload. This will have negative consequences on the company’s overall productivity and growth over time.
The managers have had a few poor experiences with delegating in the past, and when it didn’t work out, they ended up back at square one. But in the end, as a quick fix, they delegate tasks to help with the workload. But they don’t give their team members a full view into the “why” and “what” of the company’s initiatives before asking them to execute (the “how”), which leads to them delivering below expectations.
Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence in companies. To become expert delegators, managers need the right tools to build a strong foundation.
Let’s see what happens when effective delegation habits are in place.
Scenario 2: A small company is experiencing growth, but there are only so many hours in the day to handle the increased workload and meet new goals. Many of the routine tasks get automated, freeing up the leadership team to collaborate to identify the employees best suited for different tasks. The managers can focus on running the business: finances, strategic planning, and systems and processes, for example. Individual contributors are given the autonomy to focus on executing the strategy.
Revenue increases and the company continues to grow. The high-performing individual contributors benefit from professional growth—some into specialists and others into managers and leaders inside the organization.
If you compare these two scenarios, automation, proactive and collaborative planning, and delegation are crucial to heading off bottlenecks, burnout, and preventing growth.
Curious about your leadership style? Take this quiz and find out! (What’s your leadership style? )
Why do people fail at delegating?
People commonly mistake micromanaging for delegating. Instead of controlling projects, leadership should empower team members to take ownership of tasks.
In the above first scenario, the managers waited until the last minute to delegate. They didn’t proactively plan the work, nor did they take time to understand who on their team would be best suited to handle the working parts of the broader strategy.
In the second scenario, delegation had already been ingrained into company culture. The managers considered delegating during the planning process, setting up team members for success.
Other reasons why managers may fail when delegating include:
- They don’t think anyone can do the work better than they can.
- They don’t explain the work in a way that allows for team members to work autonomously.
- They delegate to people who are not set up to successfully take on the work.
- They delegate to people without strategic insight.
- The delegator micromanages the project.
- They don’t want to let go of certain aspects of the work.
- They think it’s easier and faster to do everything by themselves.
All of these pitfalls are avoidable when you learn how to delegate effectively.
What can a manager delegate?
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Let’s organize the type of work a manager can delegate into six categories:
1. Tasks that can easily be done without a manager
To avoid merely offloading low-level tasks, be conscious of to whom and what you are delegating. Conducting market research or writing website content, for example, is important work that could encourage personal growth or lead to an employee learning a new skill.
2. Tasks that someone can do better than you
Experts are better equipped to take on specialized work, like accountants, programmers, and social media marketing professionals. Having a network of specialists will improve quality and productivity.
3. Tasks that other people can and should do, but that you enjoy doing
This is where things can get tricky. It’s natural to want to hold on to the work you enjoy, however, if this work isn’t the best use of your time, it’s best to delegate. For example, a manager with a programming background may be tempted to get into coding again. Smaller companies sometimes refer to this as a “player-coach” management model. This type of role can be incredibly challenging—especially for early career managers—because their primary focus should be on the big picture.
Ask yourself what is most important for company growth. The majority of a manager’s time should be spent ensuring business objectives are met. Sure, there are exceptions when everyone will need to pitch in to hit a goal or deadline, but a healthy company is one that delegates and gives ownership and accountability at the appropriate levels.
4. Tasks that a manager may be better equipped to take on but, in the company’s best interest, are better off training and mentoring others to own the work
Delegating such work means investing time to thoroughly teach another person. Short-sightedly, it may seem easier for the manager to continue on the same path, maybe putting in a few extra hours each week, rather than hiring and training someone new. But trust me: Burnout is real. Investing time to train someone new will save you pain in the long run.
The secret to this type of delegation is to document as you go. This is an incredibly big ask for many organizations, but taking an extra 15 minutes to document how something was done—and should be done—will save you 90 minutes when the time comes to train someone new.
5. Tasks that only one specific person can do
When a company depends solely on one person to do a specific job, the company will be at risk should that person ever decide to leave. It could even stop operations. Assign an apprentice or mentee to this manager. With time, the mentee could assume ownership of these responsibilities, freeing up the manager for more strategic and operational leadership tasks.
6. Tasks that shouldn’t be delegated
While successful delegation is a powerful tool, there is work that leadership should always be responsible for.
What tasks should not be delegated?
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There is work that is only meant for managers and the leadership team. Delegating these tasks and initiatives oftentimes does not set up your team members for success.
Tasks that should not be delegated include:
- Confidential or human resources–related tasks
- Corporate strategy
- Large financial decisions and investor relations
- Sensitive and personal tasks
- Tasks that employees are not equipped to do well at the time of asking
We all know that leaders show up at all levels of a company—and you don’t have to be a manager to be seen as a leader. But, key leadership decisions—such as the strategic direction of the company—require a view into the business that many employees will not have. Make sure your leaders have the information they need to influence and make the decisions they are being asked and empowered to make.
Some leadership quizzes and guides encourage managers to avoid delegating boring tasks because they can decrease employee motivation. However, keep in mind that what’s boring for you may be interesting for others; you just need to find the right person.
When shouldn’t you delegate?
It can be easier for managers to tackle one-time tasks on their own, rather than taking the time to explain the job to someone else. There isn’t much reason to train someone for infrequent tasks. However, documenting this process so it is available for team members is important.
Also, managers shouldn’t delegate tasks that they can’t explain themselves. In this case, it is more effective for a manager to document first and train with the necessary resources later.
How can you effectively delegate work?
Delegating is a skill developed over time. When a manager can effectively delegate, employees collaborate and grow professionally. Delegation empowers team members to be autonomous, take ownership, and accomplish more.
A challenge a lot of inexperienced delegators face is micromanaging. This is a tough one. Managers can be perfectionists; maybe their perfectionism has gotten them where they are. Entrusting someone to meet their standards can be hard at first. Remember, you too are not perfect—and you were far from perfect when you started out. Give your team room to not only make mistakes but also to creatively problem solve. Who knows, you could learn something from them.
Say, for example, your company needs to announce an upcoming sale. Instead of providing full launch specs when delegating this task to a team member, why not challenge them to develop the plan? Tell them what they need to know about the event, and ask them to draft a proposal. They can find their own way to do the work—writing a blog post, updating social media, sending an email—and showcase new opportunities to market the company. Employees will innovate when given room to do so.
Once a manager decides what to delegate, the next step is to identify who on the team is right for the project.
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Managers should start by asking “why.” Why is this important? Why are we doing this now? Why are you managing the task? Next, consider the “how.” How has this been accomplished in the past? How must you collaborate with others to get the job done? Last, consider the “what.” What needs to be completed and by when? What does success look like? The project owner typically comes back with a mix of “how” and “what.” This is often referred to as the golden circle in business.
During planning and execution, aligning on the right level of check-ins is critical. This practice may already be set at the company level, but many companies are much more adhoc about project planning and execution. Have your team member create the plan, and as the manager, agree to the schedule or suggest alternatives.
Most important, take time to circle back with that team member and make sure they understand the scope of the work. Goals and objectives can get lost in translation. In these conversations, you could identify gaps in knowledge and get the employee back on track.
Don’t forget: It’s always good practice to give feedback to an employee. Cover what went well and where you see opportunities for improvement in the future. Some companies may choose to save feedback for end-of-year reviews, but keeping the tactical, project-based feedback as close to the project as possible not only keeps the information fresh but also provides managers with an opportunity to improve team morale and nourish the culture.
How can you delegate tasks better?
To help your managers get better results when delegating, provide them with a summary of the “why” and the beginnings of the “how.” Ask them how the problem has been approached in the past and consider what went well and what didn’t. Talk about the ultimate goals of the project. Always be sure to:
1. Make clear what you want to achieve
2. Make sure the team member understands the goals and objectives
3. Provide the appropriate level of resources
4. Help when necessary without micromanaging
5. Set the major milestones
6. Celebrate success and offer feedback
Staying consistent with one’s process will help you establish the habit of effective delegation, and free your time up as a manager to focus on what you should be doing.
Delegation is an important component of individual and company success. It helps to ensure the right people are working on the right things at the right time, maximizing productivity and business growth. Effective delegation gives employees key opportunities to improve their skills and support a culture of growth.
Delegating work is not easy for many professionals. It’s especially hard for early career managers without a solid system in place. And delegation just doesn’t come naturally to some people. However, do be a successful leader, delegation is something you need in your toolbox.
We’ve created a short quiz to determine how well people delegate at work. The results include recommendations on how to improve delegation skills.
How Good are You at Delegating Work?
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What is a more accurate definition of delegation at work?
· To find people who will do all the tasks that you don’t like doing or that take you a lot of time (0)
· To ask others to help you with extra work when you get too busy (0)
· To empower someone else on your team or within your organization to take on the responsibility of delivering a task or project (1)
When is it better to effectively delegate work?
· When I am responsible for much more than I as an individual can handle and have the ability to bring in other resources to work on parts of major initiatives (2)
· When as a manager I have aspects of my work that are more operational and do not require a manager-level person to complete them (2)
· When I start feeling burned out from my workload (0)
· When I have tasks on my plate that while I enjoy, are not appropriate for me as a manager to be completing (2)
Select all the tasks that you would delegate
· The tasks that you can do better than others, but people also can do them if you explain how (1)
· Corporate strategy (0)
· Operational or strategic work where the person being delegated to has the tools and knowledge to complete the task at hand (1)
What is a better way to delegate work?
· When I give a task, I expect people to do the work and figure it out (0)
· I explain clearly why a person is being asked to take on a project, provide necessary resources, and give an appropriate responsibility to that person to complete the task (1)
· I create a plan of what the employees need to do then delegate each task every time they complete the previous one (0)
You want to let customers know about an upcoming sale. What’s the best way to delegate this task?
· Tell an employee to send an email to clients (1)
· Write a blog post about an upcoming sale and ask an employee to publish it on a site (0)
· Tell an employee that you need to inform customers about an upcoming sale and ask them to draft a plan (2)
What shouldn’t you delegate?
· Researching customer information (0)
· Confidential requests or HR/employee relations (1)
· Correspondence management (0)
· Social media marketing (0)
When shouldn’t you delegate?
· When the employees are busy with another project (0)
· When the employees don’t have the skills necessary to complete the project (1)
· When it is non-repeatable work that you can easily do (0)
Select why delegating is important
· Delegating is a way for my team to develop new skills (1)
· Delegating gives me time to focus on the tasks and strategic initiatives I should be focusing on as a manager (1)
· Delegating is a way to show my authority (0)
· Delegating is a way to share the responsibility of managing a company (0)
Select all the benefits of delegating work at a company
· It keeps everyone busy (0)
· Every department can achieve higher results (1)
· Companies build a bench of future leaders (1)
· When employees are working on the right thing at the right time, the company grows faster (1)
· It is a reason to hire new people (0)
How would you describe your delegating style?
· I will not delegate a task if it is something personal or sensitive (1)
· I delegate work that is important for company success or a project (1)
· I will not delegate work that I am good at, even if someone else can do it, because I can do it myself (0)
I delegate as a last-ditch effort to meet deadlines (0)
I try to delegate often but the tasks often don’t get done (0)
I delegate routine and administrative tasks and constantly check with the employees to make sure they do their best work (0)
On the Delegation Yellow Brick Road (0-6)
It looks like you just started the journey to becoming an effective delegator and may be triggered to delegate work when your plate is already too full.
For you, delegating at work is not something you may have time to invest in right now—training people and documenting processes can be time consuming. The challenge here is making sure that you are setting yourself, your team, and your company up for success. Burning yourself out only brings on more stress and lower outcomes in the end.
Start by putting your workload into buckets: What is strategic work? What is work that I must do? What is work that I don’t necessarily need to be doing but no one else can do right now? What is work that someone else should be doing for the business? Before you get overwhelmed, consider what within each of these buckets can be delegated to someone on your team. Enable them to grow and take on more for the business.
Intermediate Delegation Skills (6-12)
You’ve managed to delegate some work and optimize the working process in a company. However, there are still many tasks that you shouldn’t be doing as a manager. They take your time from the more important strategic work.
Also, you may help your team reach a higher performance when you start trusting them more and support their growth. Be more proactive.
Look at the tasks you could delegate but don’t because training people is time-consuming or because it would require more responsibility from team members. Involve team members in your work, give resources and enough authority to complete a task. Support them to succeed.
It may be time-consuming in the short term, but delegating will save you much more time and effort in the long term.
Advanced Manager (13-18)
Great job! You’re good at delegating work to the right people when it is necessary. You understand how to use the resources and systemize the processes effectively.
As a good manager, you know how to empower your team and support it without micromanaging.
See if you can delegate even more efficiently. Look at the tasks that other people can do if you explain to them how (even if you do them better than anyone else).
Also, maybe it’s time to find a mentee and teach her how to be a good manager too.