As team leader, you have a lot of responsibilities on your plate. You’re focused on your own work, your team members’ work, and the overall direction of your department. You’re expected to meet certain goals or hit certain milestones. And you may feel overwhelmed.
One way to ease the pain? Delegation.
Delegation is an essential part of any well-functioning team—it makes the team more efficient and more likely to meet their goals. But leaders may struggle with delegating tasks.
Why people don’t delegate
Some leaders don’t delegate.
They may have a problem with control—as in, they don’t like relinquishing it. Some leaders are perfectionists who prefer doing the work themselves so they know it’s done right. But this attitude only alienates team members, slows the team down, and places a heftier workload on the leader themselves.
Others feel like delegating certain tasks isn’t necessary. After all, it doesn’t take that much time to complete them. But when there are rote, recurring tasks taking up a leader’s time and attention every week, it’s not the best use of the leader’s time. In the long run, the team will function better if another team member can do the routine work and free up the leader for big-picture planning, development, or analysis.
Finally, team leaders may avoid delegating because it feels like a chore. Explaining a process, training someone—this all takes time. Wouldn’t it be faster to do it myself? In the short run, yes. But after a team member is trained and has gone through the task several times, they should match the leader’s speed and quality of work. Delegating tasks takes time, but this is an upfront investment that will pay off in the long run.
Any number of excuses may be holding leaders back from delegating. It’s up to you to evaluate your workload and pinpoint the tasks and projects that can be delegated to help your team learn new skills, develop confidence, become more efficient, and give you more time for high-level planning and projects.
How to delegate
Decide what to delegate
The first step to delegating like a champion is deciding which tasks to delegate. When choosing tasks or projects, consider:
What’s the level of skill required?
Tasks that require team members to master new, high-level skills may or may not be suitable for delegation—it depends on if you want your team to invest time into gaining and developing those skills. Tasks that require less skill, however, are usually suitable for delegation.
How long will it take?
Again, tasks that require a great amount of time may or may not be suitable for delegation, depending on your team’s current workload. But if you find a task that requires a lot of time and little skill, it’s a clear candidate for delegation. These kinds of tasks are typically rote, like data entry, but take a long time to complete.
When is it due?
Time constraints can impact whether a task should be delegated or not. Do you have enough time to train a team member on the task? If the team member makes a mistake, is there time for the mistake to be fixed?
What are the stakes/importance?
I’ll say it loud for the perfectionists in the room—most tasks can be trusted to someone else. That said, it’s true that some tasks truly are so important that the team leader should take them on.
Will it help team members develop new skills?
If you come across a task that aligns with a team member’s career goals or desire to learn, then delegating this task can be a learning opportunity that strengthens the team as a whole.
Decide who should do the task
Once you decide to delegate a task, choose the team member who will complete it. Consider each team member’s skills, goals, aptitudes, current work load, and working style to decide which person will best complete the task.
Give them the rundown
Now we get to the good part—the part where you actually delegate.
After choosing who will complete the task, sit down with the team member and talk them through the project, including:
The final result Give them your expectations and vision for the final result, as well as examples and resources as needed. When you’re going over the task, it’s important to tell them what you want, but not how to do it to the letter. Unless this is a very specific process, give your team member freedom in how they execute the task. Everyone works differently, and your preferred methods may not jive with theirs.
When it’s due Set a clear deadline (or deadlines for recurring tasks).
Check-ins and feedback If this is a project that requires several rounds of feedback, be sure to outline when and how you’ll be giving feedback on rough drafts. If this project is long-term, set clear expectations for when and how you’ll regularly check in on the team member’s progress.
As the team member begins working on the task, there are two things to keep in mind: don’t micromanage, and be patient.
You may be tempted to interfere in the project, but your micromanaging won’t help your team grow or learn. If you stick your nose into every step in the task, then you’re not really delegating at all. It may be hard to let go at first, but if you trust in your team, they will deliver.
And be patient—it takes time to learn. When you first delegate, the tasks won’t be finished as quickly as if you’d have done them yourself, but over time that will change. Expect questions and confusion at the beginning and be ready to guide your team through any bumps or mishaps. Once your team has been through it a few times, everything will be back on speedy schedule.
Review the final product
Finally, we’ve come to the end—your team member has finished the task and presented the final product to you.
You may be surprised to find that your team member has created a more efficient process or come up with a new way of doing things—something you never would’ve thought of on your own.
Evaluate and give constructive criticism if necessary, but be sure to also give praise when it’s due. And don’t forget to say thank you!
Delegate like a champion
Over time, delegating tasks will free you up to better lead your team by enabling you to focus on the bigger picture. Instead of spending time on rote or time-consuming tasks, you can ask big questions, develop strategy, and steer a new course for the team.