Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: How To Delegate the Right Way

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Do you know how to delegate work? Delegating is a flexible ability for some, but a sore subject for others. But whether or not you realize it, delegating is of the utmost importance in the workplace. A 2014 Gallup poll noted that when CEOs with a high talent for delegation, their companies post a three-year growth rate 112% higher than those with a low talent for delegation. And even for those who aren’t in executive positions, studies show that delegation can increase workplace self-esteem, and provide feelings of empowerment.

One might say that this is because delegating tasks frees them up for more creative work, or makes someone feel like they’re in a managerial position. But that’s only a part of the equation. Delegating enables new talent to cultivate skills, grows the relationship between teammates, and fosters a sense of teamwork, all while giving the right tasks to the right people.

Unfortunately, the delegating you’re doing right now may be fraught with missed deadlines, frustrating check-in emails, or half-hearted products. But you’re about to learn why your delegating might not be working, and how to fix it.

1. Be thoughtful

An enormous mistake to make when you’re considering delegating an assignment is that you’re doing it without thinking too hard about how it’s going to play out. Not all delegation is good delegation, and if you aren’t intentional, your attempts could backfire. A recent study in the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies shows that employees can sometimes see delegation as the absence of leadership in that they’re just passing off tasks rather than completing the tasks themselves. This style, called laissez-faire leadership, results in individuals taking their bosses, teammates, or managers less seriously.

If you’re determined to be a laissez-faire leader, your team will then mirror the attitude they perceive you to be reflecting. If they think that you’re someone who’s phoning in the delegation, rather than outrightly or aggressively denying your request, they may simply “forget” about it or do it badly. To keep from seeming lazy or unreflective, make sure you delegate with intention and make sure your coworker wants to do the task as much as you want to give it to them.

2. Giving people tasks they want

One of the main reasons that delegation goes wrong is that the person you asked simply doesn’t want to do what you asked them to. In order to properly ensure that your delegation is left in the right hands, make sure that you’re playing to your coworkers’ strengths. If you assign someone a task you know they hate doing, you can all but guarantee that it’ll be pushed to the bottom of the to-do list. But if they’re willing, able, and excited to do something, they’ll want to get it done right away with alacrity.

By recognizing which tasks would fit best with the skill set of each teammate, you’re not just delegating – in a way, you’re doing someone a favor by giving them time to shine. Maybe they’ve always wanted the chance to show their graphic design abilities on a presentation or board deck, or they want to put their Excel knowledge to the test with spreadsheets organizing budgeting or workflow. Then, the whole team gets to see a brand new talent, and technically, you’re the one to thank for that.

3. Opportunities for growth

Another reason that delegation is so important is that as you’re giving people different responsibilities, you’re allowing them the opportunity to foster their careers and skills. If you give someone a task with higher stakes, one that requires research, execution, and innovation instead of automation, they’ll come out of it with new problem-solving abilities and a higher level of resourcefulness.

This can also go both ways, as most delegation does, as there will be times where your teammates need to call on you to tackle certain facets of a project. To make sure that you’re getting the right assignments as well, you can always let teammates know some of your interests, and see if they align with the things your coworkers aren’t as passionate about.

4. Patience is key

To delegate properly, you have to remember that delegation is a process, and not a fixed instance. The first, second, or even third times you delegate a task to someone, there may be some facets of the project that need a little fine-tuning. You may even need to re-do some parts yourself until the other person gets the hang of what your own specific parameters and expectations are.

If you find yourself growing impatient with someone you’ve delegated a task to, consider whether or not you’ve checked all the above boxes. Was the task the right fit for them? Were they enthusiastic about it, or apathetic? Was it a task that helped build their skills, or a boring, time-draining undertaking that you didn’t want to do yourself? Answering all of these questions can inform you better about how to delegate in the future, or even how to help the person you’ve delegated to at the moment.

5. Share the credit

Another way that delegating ends badly is when the person doing the delegating keeps all the credit for themselves as if the person they were delegating to was their assistant. Even if you helped them accomplish the task, as they were still a bit new at it, they deserve their moment in the sun. If they did the work, they deserve credit for the product. Additionally, if you share the credit with someone else, you’re giving them the chance to take on additional work in the same vein, which they may really enjoy.

Additionally, delegating can be a sore subject for some, as they don’t want to come off pushy, entitled, or presumptive. Sharing the credit can also send a message to your teammates that delegating is okay, and that it’s alright to both ask for help and to give it. What many people don’t know about delegating is that splitting up tasks within your team is more about giving than it is receiving, and creating transparency around that conversation can ultimately help destigmatize it.

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