Knowing how to delegate can make or break your team. Yet, we often feel odd about delegating or being delegated. And when it comes to flattened hierarchies, things get even odder. In fact, people tend to either under delegate or over-delegate.
To put it another way, knowing how to delegate is a skill. Without doubt, a very useful one. Despite being easy to understand, delegating is a tough skill to acquire. That’s because it’s an organic process. The nature of the work that needs delegating changes over time. Hence, figuring out how to delegate is something everyone should learn and practice.
Sure, some of you might know how to delegate. You might have years of experience and rather good results with delegating work. Even so, there are countless ways to improve. And the explanation is simple. The purpose of delegating is much simpler than the process itself. And oftentimes pondering on how to delegate leaves us all in or all out. But rarely in the right place. Here’s how to delegate with confidence.
Knowing how to delegate makes you effective
Managers that know how to delegate are more effective. They create a functional division of work. Hence, they fulfill one purpose of management: assigning work to team members.
Yet, there is more to this than meets the eye. To point out, any organization has some sort of work that needs to be done. To make work doable, it has to be segmented. Management decides how that work must be separated into individual tasks. Essentially, managers make sure work happens by delegating.
So, knowing how to delegate ensures a functional division of work. Other than that, it increases effectiveness by freeing up schedules. Managers that delegate can better concentrate on important decisions. Ones that require their authority or expertise. Or perhaps decisions for which they are especially qualified.
By learning how to delegate, managers also free up decision-space. Decision making is an energy-taxing process. Many studies claim that there is a limit to how well we make decisions. This sounds perfectly reasonable. Even decision making is subject to fatigue. In fact, this is called decision fatigue.
By knowing how to delegate, you limit the number of decisions you make. This way you can save your time and energy for important decisions. Meanwhile, you can delegate decisions to the team. This in effect builds team trust, engagement and cohesion.
Most of all, delegating allows you to perform better. And you can use all sorts of strategies to delegate. When in doubt on how to delegate, stick to the basics.
The basics of how to delegate on a personal level
Some would argue that the highest aspiration of any manager is to become irrelevant. In reality, supervising and coordinating people are not easy feats. Especially considering that one of your objectives is to tell other people what to do so that you can focus on what only you can do.
When delegating to a person, first make sure you understand what that person is capable of. To put it another way, you must assess the capability spectrum of that person. You need to figure out what would be easy, OK, and difficult for that person to achieve.
Second of all, you need to understand how what you delegate will affect the existing workload. Is that person already busy, struggling under the load of far too many projects? If yes, perhaps you should delegate to someone else.
Thirdly, try to understand what motivates the person to whom you delegate. By understanding what motivates them, you can know they will deliver. Many people are not motivated to do more than what their job description entails. It may perhaps be your role to motivate them accordingly.
Lastly, consider that delegating is a de facto grooming opportunity. You can choose tasks, from easy to difficult, and in effect train someone. By structuring delegated tasks, you can ensure improved performance and learning on the job.
Knowing how to delegate makes teams effective
This is an often overlooked perspective. We often focus on how to delegate, what and why. Yet, we fail to see how delegating improves teams and employees.
By delegating, you transfer authority. It is a temporary, yet special transfer. It’s temporary, because it only lasts as long as the delegated task. Naturally, you can also include reporting within the delegated assignment. It’s special, because you are specific about what it is you want to be done, how, when, etc. Typically managers only assign tasks. Hence, they seldom include instructions on what they expect to see happen. To some extent, this is fine. It is preferable, however, to at least give some sense of your expectations.
Transferring authority to a subordinate offers them headspace. While avoiding decision fatigue, you are effectively ensuring that team members experience some decision making. You can use this to learn more about people you work with. For example, you can better understand a person by following how they’ve carried through a task.
At the same time, your delegation empowers people. It allows them some space to grow and shine. They can develop hidden talents or prove themselves on a variety of skills. You can discover budding leaders.
At team level, delegating tasks gets everyone engaged. It is perhaps best if they understand how you delegate and why. But on the whole, they become more effective when they have more than assumptions to work with.
How to delegate tasks to teams
Teams are there to help and support you. And if you know how to delegate, you can achieve a whole lot more. After all, you must figure out how to delegate to free up your schedule.
The main idea here is to delegate tasks directly to your team. In doing so, you are asking the team to offer a contribution on how to delegate. You are effectively tapping in on the team knowledge. Here’s how to do it.
Select tasks that don’t require your attention
What you need to do is identify which tasks can be taken over by the team. List them alongside the desired outcome. And only do check-ups every now and then. And naturally, you can delegate check-ups and reporting later on.
There are several types of tasks you should learn how to delegate:
- The repetitive ones that can easily be turned into procedures and covered by anyone on the team. Typically, these are easy repetitive tasks.
- The ones that are simple and can be covered by an intern, yet take a lot of time to fulfill.
- The ones that are easy to accomplish and require little time. However, they can stack to take the better part of your day.
- The ones that are far beyond your level of expertise.
Teach others to do what you delegate
Imagine you are a data scientist with years of experience. You are currently managing a whole team of experts from various fields. Some of them are only starting out. There are two juniors that are eager to learn anything.
You typically work with huge data sets. Very often your data needs some combing before you can use it. So, you usually write or adapt some code to automatize the combing process. Every now and then, however, you have smaller data sets. You could even do things manually. It gets frustrating because it takes up a lot time either way.
Hence, you have a teachable moment. You can teach both approaches to a trainee and supervise the implementation. Start with the manual method so that they gain insight. Or start from the other end, so that they know what to pay attention to later on. Either way, teach others so that you can delegate.
Better yet, have your team train juniors into basic methods you all make constant use of. This way you clear your schedule and work on key aspects of the project. It’s also a great way to select quick learners. Or talented and dedicated future new hires.
How to delegate what you don’t know
People fail to delegate because they can’t let go. This is typical with perfectionists. But there’s a deeper issue at play here. Most people won’t delegate because they are scared. They simply can’t trust others with the right results.
To make matters worse, people fail to delegate even when they have limited knowledge over the matter. Furthermore, they might end up delegating to the wrong person. Or delay the matter and hire an expensive professional. This despite having access to in-house talent.
A quick solution to this problem is to keep tabs on expertise. And if you don’t address the whole team. They will know what each of them knows.
Final thoughts on how to delegate
Knowing how to delegate is incredibly useful for collaborative work. It is a skill you can learn. Yet, nothing is as good as practice when it comes to delegating.
The key point on delegating that should stick with you is: trust your team and delegate more.
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