Delegation is an essential leadership skill.
It’s one of the first ways to move away from top-down management, to a more inclusive style that enables and empowers employees. It’s incredibly difficult to do right.
You have to toe the line between delegating just enough that your team members feel motivated and challenged, and not so much that they feel overwhelmed or assume you’re passing off some of your work.
How to delegate your tasks during the work day
1. Cluster your tasks into different levels
Go through all the things that you do regularly and cluster them according to whether they’re possible to delegate and how easy they are to delegate.
Separate them into:
- Complex tasks that could only be delegated to highly skilled team members or that need to be broken down into specific areas. These could be tasks like figuring out how to roll out a whole new system or setting up a project that involves multiple stakeholders from scratch.
- Simple tasks that could be delegated to most people, as long as they have one skill, like writing documentation for a project, answering a specific type of email or becoming a temporary liaison with another department.
Once you’ve built this overview of your own tasks, you can start thinking about what you can delegate to whom.
2. Figure out the strengths and weaknesses of every individual in your team
As a manager, one of your key responsibilities is to assess the performance of your team members.
Start by assessing the skills that are necessary for success in their role. Imagine the perfect person fulfilling this position.
- What skills would they have?
- What would they be able to do really well?
- Figure out a brief schema for each role.
- Evaluate each person’s performance according to the skills you laid out.
- Focus on finding specific examples that match (or don’t match, as the case may be) the behaviour you want to see.
You should also think about their personality and what their natural inclinations are.
Think of how they respond in different situations. How do they deal with challenges? How do they handle feedback? What makes them get defensive? What motivates them? Are they the kind of person who would volunteer for anything? Do they find it hard to do things outside of their comfort zone?
This is the kind of information you can only pick up through observation, time, and experience.
If you don’t feel like you have a clear handle on this already, there are a lot of tools out there that can help you with both.
StrengthsFinder 2.0 is a framework developed by Gallup that identifies a person’s strengths with the help of a quiz. It also gives you suggestions for how those strengths can be further developed. This can translate extremely well when it comes to identifying strengths and weaknesses.
The Big 5 Personality Traits is another model that’s great for understanding where a person’s natural inclinations are.
16Personalities is yet another option and that one is mostly free. It takes a measure of trust and comfort to participate in a quiz like this and then share the results, so it’s usually easier to do it as a team and share your own results as well.
3. Match the tasks that you can delegate to the right person.
To judge if you’ve matched a task to the right person, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do they have the prerequisite skills to have a good chance at succeeding? How have they shown you that they’re capable of doing it?
- Do they have the right temperament or personal inclination to even be interested in this task? Will the task develop them in a direction that they care about? For example, it doesn’t make sense to delegate the task of preparing a presentation to someone who absolutely hates giving presentations and who doesn’t believe that developing that skill is important for them.
- Is there any other person better suited for this task? The answer here doesn’t have to be no but you should be able to articulate exactly why you’re giving it to one person over another.
- Why exactly do you want to delegate this task? There’s a difference between delegating to lessen your own workload and delegating to reward good performance. If you want to encourage someone by giving them more opportunities because they’ve been working extremely hard, the way you communicate this should be very different.
Err on the side of giving ambitious people the more challenging tasks because they’ll be driven and committed to following through.
People who prefer stability and comfort will need many more incremental changes over a longer period of time.
Both are completely fine. You just need to identify the right tasks for the right people.
4. Communicate the task and your vision
In order to set someone up to truly succeed, your communication about your expectations has to be on point.
When you talk to your team member about the task, make sure you talk about the why. This will help them understand your intentions and give them a clearer impression of what you’re looking for.
The next thing you need to do is imagine the perfect end result. Focus purely on the outcome and then break it down, so you can describe it better. What aspects are essential? What aspects are nice to have? At what point is the task officially finished? What would make it successful?
5. Monitor delegated tasks
Be clear about how often you’ll be checking in with each other.
- Figure out a schedule and a format.
- Every check-in should include an overview of the current status, progress made in the last while since you spoke, and an idea of what the next steps will be.
- Ask if there are blockers or if there are additional things they need help with. This should cover the basics when it comes to providing ongoing support.
Your responsibility is to provide exactly as much direction as they need, whenever they need it.
If they don’t need very much, then all you need to do is check in at regular intervals and give them feedback on how they’re doing.
If they need a lot more direction, you might have to step in more often. Maybe the person you’ve delegated to needs help in getting started. In that case, you should set up a meeting where you try to prompt them to break the task down into chronological steps and then get them to document it before they start working on them.
Your focus should always be on coaching and guiding them to coming up with things on their own though. If you’re doing 90% of the thinking and they’re simply following your lead, this is a sign that the task might be too complex for them.
Watch out for any signs that someone is uncomfortable asking for help.
- A certain level of independence and desire to manage things on their own is of course important.
- It’s okay for you to make an effort to check in more often with that person but if tasks stop moving completely until you do that, this is another thing to address.
That said, be very self-critical. It’s possible that the reason you’re stepping in so much is because you have a very clear idea of how the project should be done. In this case, you need to learn how to coach without micromanaging.
If you’re keeping such a close eye on their progress because you need it, not them, then this is something that you should work on and try to improve. The point of delegation is the exact opposite of micromanagement.
Remember that you need a basic level of trust that this person can do a great job at this specific task before you delegate it. If you’ve done your preparation work properly, there’s no reason to not give them more space.
If it doesn’t seem to be working out, you should step in and take over that task again.
How soon you do this depends a lot on how urgent the task is.
Make sure you give the person enough of a chance to really work on it. Give them feedback regularly, explain what isn’t working, and give them time to improve or change it. If you do this two or three times with no progress, then it’s time for you to act. Don’t let things like this drag on for a longer period of time because they’re uncomfortable to address.
6. Be clear about the decision-maker
Try to clarify who the final decision-maker is from the very beginning.
Is the purpose of the project to make a recommendation based on some criteria but then you, the manager, will be deciding what the best course of action is? Is the purpose to actually implement something? Do you expect them to simply inform you of what they’re implementing, do you want time to give advice but let them make the final decision, or do you want to approve what they’re doing?
These kinds of nuances can make a huge difference. If they’re clear from the beginning, it’ll be much easier for everyone involved. Lack of clarity about who’s responsible for making a decision will always slow a project down and can lead to easily avoidable conflict when someone acts but you don’t want them to.
There are good tools like Delegation Poker from Management 3.0 that you could use to figure this out.
Become a better delegator
Delegation is simpler in theory than it is in practice but breaking it down with objective criteria makes it much easier.
It also makes you a better leader, who can recognise people’s skillset and adapt their tasks to their strengths easier.
Taking the extra time here can develop your team’s development and help you level up as a manager.