The Art of Delegation: The best way to save time and develop teams

Delegation: A fundamental part of being a manager. It is crucial to team and organisational success. Without it workflow and performance suffer. With such high stakes then, why is ‘not delegating effectively’ often cited as one of the biggest management traps? What prevents us from getting it right every time?

Typically, it comes down to the big three delegation traps. If any of these resonate with you, use our simple guide to delegation to help get it right first time.

  1. I can do it better/faster myself – that may or may not be true, but this is definitely a false economy as you stop your own and your team’s development
  2. I want to do it myself – often borne out of habit, comfort or familiarity – we can hold on too long to tasks that we really should be passing on to others
  3. I don’t trust someone else to do it right – this has more to do with our emotions clouding our ability delegate effectively. If we are nervous or anxious about others doing a task it effects the language we use when delegating, cause us to be overly directive, and can lead to one of the worst management traits of all – the dreaded micromanager.

The irony with all these traps is that they cost us time in the long run. The task isn’t achieved and we either end up doing it ourselves or have to spend even more time re-delegating or having uncomfortable performance conversations.

The very best time saver then as a manager is delegating to the right person, in the right way at the right time. For this, we can use a simple strategy, ‘The Cheat’s Guide to Delegation,’ so called as we can use it to delegate effectively even if we only have a couple of minutes to prep. It comprises of 5 simple questions to remember to cover in any delegation conversation to ensure we get it right every time.

The Cheat’s Guide to Delegation

In his book Coaching for Improved Work Performance, Ferdinand Fournies interviewed 25,000 managers and asked them one question:  ‘why don’t people do what they’re supposed to do?’ Think about the times you’ve delegated to someone and they didn’t achieve the task to see if that’s reflected in the top 3 responses from those interviewed:

1) they didn’t know WHY it was important

2) they didn’t know WHAT to do

3) they didn’t know HOW to do it

It’s easy to fall into the trap of making assumptions when delegating. We assume they know WHY something is important; WHAT specifically to do to achieve the outcome and HOW to actually do it. This gets exacerbated when we use a one-way TELL approach to delegation.

These questions of Why, What, How form the the first 3 questions to cover when delegating. We then add two more questions to complete our cheat’s guide…

4) WHEN – talking through expectations around timelines is good way to manage expectations and avoid micromanaging. It’s much better to pre-arrange check-ins with somebody rather than hovering around them like a helicopter parent.

5) WHAT IF – as in, what if it all goes horribly wrong? What if they get stuck? What if they need support? What if they make a mistake? It’s really useful here if you can share with them all your pearls of wisdom that you’ve learned about the task by trial and error to help them to be able to execute it right first time.

Cheat’s Guide at a Glance

Use the following question prompts to help to prepare to delegate effectively, ensuring you cover these off in the delegation discussion:

  1. Why is the task important and why should they care?
  2. What exactly do they need to do?
  3. How should/could they do it?
  4. When do they need them to start/finish /check-in?
  5. What If it all goes horribly wrong? What level of support or autonomy will they need?

The Delegation Conversation

Delegation needs to be a 2-way conversation where you engage with the person to whom you are delegating a task. It should not be you talking at them but more a discussion where they are talking in equal measure to you. For example, instead of saying, ‘this is why this task is important/this is what you need to do/this is how etc ’, ask questions like:

  • what’s your understanding of why this is important?
  • what capacity do you have to be able to do this?
  • what experience do you have of this?
  • how might you approach it?

The more involved you get them in the delegation early on, the more likely they are to take real ownership of the task. Encourage them to tell you how they plan to execute the task. Use open questions and summarising to help with this.

To sum up the conversation, agree next steps and sense check that what you’ve delegated is what they’ve understood.

So, the next time you have to delegate an important task, take five minutes to prepare; sketch out your key talking points and questions to ask. And remember, taking a little bit of time to get delegation right could potentially save you hours.