7 sins of delegation

Delegation seems simple to some; maybe too simple. You give a task to a colleague, and they get on with it – nothing to it! Hmmm…If you’re thinking, ‘really, how hard can it be?’, there may be some lessons heading your way. Are you guilty of any of these ‘sins of delegation’?

1. No context

Why does the task exist? Where does the task you’re delegating fit into your team’s purpose? How important is it to your organisation’s performance? If you’re delegating a task without the context – the bigger picture – you may be in for a nasty surprise when your hapless colleague spends hours doing a lovely job – of the wrong thing. Do the right thing instead and show how the task fits into the wider context. Tip: a diagram might help.

2. Hogging the mic

If your colleague isn’t given the opportunity to ask questions – no matter how seemingly basic – don’t be surprised if you find them with their head in their hands at the end of the day. When you delegate a task to someone it’s a conversation, not a monologue. People need to be able to ask questions to ensure they’ve got a clear picture of what’s needed, why and by when. Tip: if someone’s hesitant about asking questions, try asking “what questions do you have?” – it’s more likely to elicit questions than a hurried, “any questions?

3. No examples

The person you’re delegating to may create a thing of beauty – but it may be the wrong thing. Or not good enough. Not surprising, if they’ve not had the benefit of examples. Be the good manager that has a handy stash of examples showing what good looks like. Tip: encourage people to build their own collection of examples.

4. Assuming they have the skills required

If you’re delegating a task to someone, how do you know they have the skills needed? If you assume that job title = skills levels, beware. Even experienced employees can have a few skills gaps, some of which they may be unaware – or all too aware. Tip: ask them to tell you how they’ll go about the task. What strengths and skills will they bring to the work? And if people lack essential skills, request skill support.

5. No support

Leaving people to sink or swim is irresponsible: without support they may become anxious or despondent, make serious mistakes and deliver poor work. Tip: clarify upfront how and when you’ll be available for support.

6. Meddling

If you’ve delegated a task well there should be no need for you to meddle in your colleague’s work. As a long-ago boss advised, “monitor – don’t meddle’. In other words, don’t grab the task and make changes (whether they’re big or small) to your liking. Keep in touch, be available for advice – but don’t meddle, unless you want to demoralise your once-keen team member.

7. No feedback

When someone’s completed a task (especially for the first time), give clear feedback on their work. What worked well and what impact did that have? What have they learned? Tip: As well as giving feedback, ask for feedback about how the work can be improved.

You may find this post useful: ‘Why your CFO wants you to delegate more’.

If you want to find out more about my workshops on delegation, please get in touch.

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


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