How to delegate

One of the secrets of people who manage their time effectively is their willingness to delegate tasks to others. But if you’re not used to delegating and prefer to go it alone in order to save time you might want to consider some of the benefits that this form of resource management can offer.

What is delegation and what are the benefits?

Delegation is a critical skill for any manager. No one can be good at everything, and the reality is that time is also often short when deadlines are looming. When a manager delegates, they empower someone else to act on their behalf, whether attending an industry conference or writing a report. Effective delegation might feel unnatural at first but it benefits both managers and teams equally by:

  • Freeing up time for managers to work on other things that only they can take responsibility for
  • Demonstrating that the manager trusts their team members to pick things up quickly and work independently
  • Identifying previously hidden skills and talents allowing team members to contribute to their manager and organisation in new ways
  • Raising levels of motivation and engagement among team members – taking on a new project raises confidence and stretches comfort zones.

What are the key behaviours of effective delegators?

Effective delegators know that they can’t control everything. They also understand that the old adage “if you want something done, do it yourself” can be counterproductive in some cases especially when time is tight and they’re dealing with other business critical issues. Delegation takes some getting used to but these tips will help you to develop this crucial skill.

Fight the fear

Many of us fear handing something over to someone else. Will handing this over make me look bad? Is this person up to the job? What if I end up spending more time training them than it would have taken me to just do it myself? When we don’t trust others to take projects on we can feel anxious and panicked. But don’t forget that we often make assumptions about other people’s abilities. You’ll never know how they’ll get on unless you let them try. Start off small. Try assigning a team member a project in line with their expertise. After they’ve delivered the work ask them what they found enjoyable about the assignment and what other skills they’d like to develop going forward. The more confident you are in your team members, the more confident they’ll be in you.

Know exactly what you want

Before asking someone to take something on be really clear about what you need from them. Write everything down so nothing gets missed; It also helps your team member to keep on top of things and will reduce the amount of time they’ll need with you if they have ongoing questions. Explain any other people or departments they’ll need to speak with on the project, and what data sources they might find helpful. Remember to provide clear deadlines – but allow yourself enough time before the project’s actual delivery date to give you the chance to review it in detail and support your team member to make any changes or additions. Don’t assume that your team member will know everything the first time and if you highlight your expectations clearly, they’ll deliver better results.

Offer ongoing guidance

Make it clear that while you trust the person to do a good job you’re also aware that they might need help at some stage. Let them know that you’re happy to review anything they’re unsure of. When people know that help is on offer they’re usually more likely to explore the options before approaching their manager for assistance.

Acknowledge your own fears

Many of us fear losing control of a project, especially when it’s key to the department’s success. Be honest with yourself and ask why you’re feeling anxious. Have you had a bad experience with delegation before? If so, what would you do differently this time? Are you concerned that your team member will make mistakes or are you concerned that your own position will be undermined if they shine? These fears are normal and everyone learning to delegate will face them at some point. Ask yourself what the worst scenario is if the end product isn’t up to your standards. Chances are you’ll be able to help them rectify any mistakes and help them to develop their learning in the process.

Match assignments to skills

You know your team members and delegation is most successful when you match assignments to individuals’ demonstrable skills. Some people are better than others at figures while others might be gifted public speakers. Outline the key skills needed for the project you’re delegating and choose the person with the best skills for the job. Not just the person who happens to be free at that particular moment. Conversely, be careful that you don’t delegate to the same people all the time but ensure that each team member can play an active role. Again, start small with less experienced staff but remember what it can feel like to be left out.

Maintain trust

When we don’t trust people to do their best we risk micro-managing which really defies the whole point of delegation. You might have specific ways of doing things, but when you let people do things their way you’re demonstrating that you trust them. While it’s crucial that they follow the guidelines you’ve set out for them, don’t assume that their way of approaching a project is wrong. Their method might be as effective as yours but simply different.

Follow up

While you don’t want to stand over someone’s shoulder while they’re working, speak to them both during the process and afterwards to let them know what you think is going well. This can be as simple as saying “You’re making great progress – things are looking good!” A simple word of encouragement reinforces the fact that you trust them and makes them feel more motivated to do a good job.

Remember to say thank you

A simple thank you goes a long way and while accepting an assignment might be considered an expectation in any role, let them know that you appreciate their hard work and that it’s made a real difference to you as a manager and to the whole team. Many delegators who forget to thank people for their efforts tend to find that future assignments aren’t met with much enthusiasm.