7 delegation traps for new managers – and how to beat them


You’ve been promoted – well done! So now that you manage other people, a significant part of your job is delegating work to them. This can be a watershed moment for many a new manager, particularly when it comes to delegating tasks that were once your job to get done. Those who get delegation right are off to a good start – but they’re in the minority. When I deliver Zoomly’s ‘How to delegate effectively’ many participants recognise the traps they’ve fallen into. Here are 7 common delegation traps that await new managers – and what to do about them.

Trap 1: ‘Sink or swim’

This trap is a hallmark of a new manager who, when they were starting out, got given a task with very little guidance to see if they’d fail or keep their head above water. Just because that may have been your own experience doesn’t make it right; it’s not how managers develop people in today’s workplaces.
Beat this trap: put in time upfront to discuss the task with the person who will be doing the work.

Trap 2: Hogging the mic

A classic trap, as the new manager goes through the task at length, adding a few anecdotes along the way, assuming their new direct report is listening to (and understanding) every word.
Beat this trap: ask questions as you progress through your briefing. Questions will help you find out if your colleague has a working grasp of the work or needs to find out more.

Trap 3: Dumping pet hates

A classic trap for new managers is thinking “Now I can get [new direct report’s name goes here] doing the income forecast / budget reconciliation / the competitor review slides. Happy Days!”
Beat this trap: first, make sure you are 100% clear about what tasks you will be keeping from your old role and what you will be handing over to free up time for the new work coming your way. Have a conversation with your manager and share your suggestions about who does what, making sure they endorse your plan. Be aware that if there’s something you habitually put off, it may be time to make an effort to master it – before your new colleague does.

Trap 4: No examples

Waffling on about how important this task is and how fortunate your colleague is to be given it is all very well – but will it help them grasp exactly what is needed? They may know the ‘why’ of the task but be unsure of the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of doing it.
Beat this trap: don’t just tell, show your colleague what good looks like. Be on the lookout for great examples to help people get it right first time.

Trap 5: No support

No matter how well you may have explained the task and provided examples, your team member will probably need support at some point as they work through the task. There may be a knowledge or skills gap that only becomes apparent as they get going. Or, there may be an unforeseen setback and they’ve no idea what to do.
Beat this trap: establish upfront when and how you will be involved and stick to it. If you’re going to check in each day make sure you do. Your colleague may need your input, your opinion or a brief demo.

Trap 6: Leaving delegation to the last minute

This trap is entirely understandable if you’ve just been promoted and are still very much a learner when it comes to your new role. You’ve got new responsibilities and different expectations of what you will deliver, and it can be overwhelming. Next thing you know it’s the end of the working day and you drop a task on your colleague’s desk, with a brief ‘I’ll catch up with you later’.
Beat this trap: identify the work that needs to be delegated and do that first. You may be itching to get going on your own work but if you do that first you’re holding up the rest of the team and hampering progress.

Trap 7: No review and reflection

As a new manager you will benefit from taking time to review your work and reflect on what worked well – and what didn’t. Do this at least once each week, even if it’s only 15 minutes, and you will learn valuable lessons and become more self-aware. How about your direct report? Are they running around with their hair on end and repeating mistakes?
Beat this trap: build reviewing and reflecting on into how you manage people, encouraging them to pause for thought and gain insights into how they can be more effective. This is particularly useful when someone has completed a task you’ve delegated; help them look back over what worked well, what (if anything) didn’t work well and what can be done differently.

You may find this post useful: ‘What can you do if someone’s work isn’t good enough?


Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’


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Image credit: Delegate – thinglass – Depositphotos

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