6 questions to ask when you’re being delegated to

Hands up if you’ve ever been delegated a task and any of the following things have happened:

  • The conversation about the task you now need to do ended abruptly – your delegator had somewhere else they needed to be – and you don’t have a clue about several elements of the task.
  • You aren’t 100% sure when the work needs to be completed.
  • The person who delegated to you keeps hovering near your desk and “just checking in with how you’re doing” at almost hourly intervals.
  • You finished the task and then were told all the things you’d screwed up – but it’s too late now for you to put things right.
  • Your manager says, “I thought you knew all about this!” – you didn’t – and the conversation takes a potentially career-limiting turn.

You’re not alone: all the above happened to me when I was working in large organisations. Thankfully I got some training later on that really helped, and these days continuously update that knowledge to help the people I train and coach.

When you’re being delegated to, it can be all too easy to say “Yes! Of course!” and grab a truly half-baked brief with both hands, only to wind up lost and anxious – or deliver a half-baked job. Keep these questions ready to make sure you have what you need to give the task your very best shot:

  1. “Can you show me an example?”
  2. Examples are the magic ingredient for both the person delegating and the person on the receiving end: they remove any doubt about what is needed, the component parts and standard required. What if your boss can’t find an example? Ask if they can show you examples of what they consider near enough as well as some they dislike, and get them to give you a detailed specification.

  3. “How will this be used?”
  4. I’ll never forget the workshop participant who’d worked late on creating and polishing a presentation for his boss, when what she actually needed were simply some links to information to swot up on before meeting a prospect. Asking how the ‘update on XYZ Ltd for tomorrow’s chemistry meeting’ will be used could have saved him the trouble.

  5. “Is there a template?”
  6. Templates are another very handy tool for your get-noticed-for-the-right-reasons toolkit. Ask if such a thing exists; it’s highly likely if the task is a proposal, report or other routine piece of work there is a template on your shared system. And if there’s no template? Ask your manager to sketch this out for you, or you can do this and run it past them before going any further. Then when the job’s done, be sure to create a template that adds value to your colleagues. You may also want to create a checklist to share.

  7. “What deadlines am I working to?”
  8. There’s always more than one deadline: reviewing a first draft, getting executive approval, sending material to a website administrator or printer. Check that the deadlines are realistic and achievable – and that you have the time and capacity to meet them all.

  9. “When and how do you want to review progress?”
  10. If you’re new to the task you will need to review progress a few times along the way. This is a great question to establish if your manager is of the micro-managing or ‘let them sink or swim’ variety – or somewhere in between. If you’re uneasy about the suggested frequency of ‘little catch-ups’, say so; if you think too much is being left to the last minute, say so.

  11. “What tips have you learned to get this done really well?”
  12. Asking for tips will encourage your boss to; a) think back to when they were a novice at this task (which may have been a long time ago) and get a reality check; b) share their hacks and shortcuts as well as pitfalls to avoid.

You may find this blog post useful: 10 tips for getting stuff done.


Dawn is the author of ‘How to be Zoomly at work’, available on Amazon.

Comments are closed.