Successful Delegation

Using the Power of Other People's Help

Successful Delegation - Using the Power of Other People's Help

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Build a strong and capable team.

Do you feel stressed and overloaded? Or like your career is stalled? If so, then you may need to brush up on your delegation skills!

If you work on your own, there's only a limited amount that you can do, however hard you work. Afterall, you can only work so many hours in a day, and there are only so many people you can help. And, because the number of people you can help is limited, your success is limited.

However, the better you at your job, the more people will expect from you. This can lead to undue pressue and work overload: you can't do everything that everyone wants. And this can leave you feeling stressed, unhappy, and as if you're letting people down.

On the positive side, however, you're being given a tremendous opportunity if you can find a way around this limitation. If you can realize this opportunity, you can be genuinely successful!

One of the most common ways of overcoming this limitation is to learn how to delegate your work to others. Good delegators are able to build strong and successful teams that are more than capable of meeting the demands of a heavy workload. This is why delegation is such an important skill to learn!

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Why People Don't Delegate

There are many possible reasons why people might be afraid of handing over tasks or responsibilities:

They Are Worried About Dumping Their Work on Others

Just because something is normally a manager's job it doesn’t mean that it can’t be done by others (unless it is a specific role requirement or depends on a particular level of authority). What's important is that the work is completed, not who does it. If team members appear to be too busy, it's worthwhile checking what they are busy with. It could be that they are working on low-priority work, in which case their workload could be rearranged to carry out the delegated task first.

Delegation is not trying to make more work for your team, but to distribute it more efficiently so that tasks get allocated according to skills and workloads. If team members understand this, they’ll be happy to contribute to the team effort.

They Feel Threatened

It is important for those who delegate to understand that they will not be handing over their entire job – just certain tasks. And it is up to them which ones they hand over. Even if they delegate several tasks, the job of a manager will not become redundant. They will still play an important role in supporting and guiding the team and will always remain ultimately responsible for the work.

And why worry about someone else doing a task better than you? If they can do it well, all the more reason for giving it to them! The aim is to make your team more efficient and effective – and to give others opportunities to use their skills and develop.

They Don’t Want to Lose Control

When work is handed over to others, it will take them time to learn how to do it as well as their predecessor. Initially, things will take longer and quality may be reduced. However, with enough support and guidance, these hurdles will quickly be overcome.

They Think It Would Be Quicker to Do It Themselves

Everyone takes time to learn something new. The more support they are given at the outset, the more quickly they will be able to do the work themselves. Those delegating work should ensure that they give clear instructions, and provide plenty of guidance, praise, feedback, and reassurance along the way to build confidence.

When to Delegate

Delegation is a win-win when done appropriately. However, that does not mean that you can delegate just anything. To determine when delegation is most appropriate there are five key questions you need to ask yourself:

  • Is there someone else who has (or can be given) the necessary information or expertise to complete the task? Essentially is this a task that someone else can do, or is it critical that you do it yourself?
  • Does the task provide an opportunity to grow and develop another person's skills?
  • Is this a task that will recur, in a similar form, in the future?
  • Do you have enough time to delegate the job effectively? Time must be available for adequate training, for questions and answers, for opportunities to check progress, and for rework if necessary.
  • Is this a task that I should delegate? Tasks critical for long-term success (for example, recruiting the right people for your team) genuinely do need your attention.

If you can answer "yes" to at least some of the above questions, then it could well be worth delegating this job. That being said, having all these conditions present is no guarantee that the delegated task will be completed successfully either. You also need to consider to whom you will delegate the task and how you will do it.


Other factors that contribute to the delegability of a task include:

  1. The project's timelines/deadlines.
    • How much time is there available to do the job?
    • Is there time to redo the job if it's not done properly the first time?
    • What are the consequences of not completing the job on time?
  2. Your expectations or goals for the project or task(s), including:
    • How important is it that the results are of the highest possible quality?
    • Is an "adequate" result good enough?
    • Would a failure be critical?
    • How much would failure impact other things?


The Who and How of Delegating

Having decided to delegate a task, there are some other factors to consider as well. As you think these through, you can use our free Delegation Log worksheet to keep a record of the tasks you choose to delegate and who you want to delegate them to.

To Whom Should You Delegate?

The factors to consider here include:

  1. The experience, knowledge and skills of the individual as they apply to the delegated task.
    • What knowledge, skills and attitude does the person already have?
    • Do you have time and resources to provide any training needed?
  2. The individual's preferred work style.
    • How independent is the person?
    • What do they want from their job?
    • What are their long-term goals and interests, and how do these align with the work proposed?
  3. The current workload of this person.
    • Does the person have time to take on more work?
    • Will delegating this task require reshuffling of other responsibilities and workloads?

How Should You Delegate?

Use the following principles to delegate successfully:

  1. Clearly articulate the desired outcome. Begin with the end in mind and specify the desired results.
  2. Clearly identify constraints and boundaries. Where are the lines of authority, responsibility and accountability? Should the person:
    • Wait to be told what to do?
    • Ask what to do?
    • Recommend what should be done, and then act?
    • Act, and then report results immediately?
    • Initiate action, and then report periodically?
  3. Where possible, include people in the delegation process. Empower them to decide what tasks are to be delegated to them and when.
  4. Match the amount of responsibility with the amount of authority. Understand that you can delegate some responsibility, however you can't delegate away ultimate accountability. The buck stops with you!
  5. Delegate to the lowest possible organizational level. The people who are closest to the work are best suited for the task, because they have the most intimate knowledge of everyday work. This also increases workplace efficiency, and helps to develop people.
  6. Provide adequate support, and be available to answer questions. Ensure the project's success through ongoing communication and monitoring as well as provision of resources and credit.
  7. Focus on results. Concern yourself with what is accomplished, rather than detailing how the work should be done: Your way is not necessarily the only or even the best way! Allow the person to control their own methods and processes. This facilitates success and trust.
  8. Avoid "upward delegation." If there is a problem, don't allow the person to shift responsibility for the task back to you. Instead, ask for recommended solutions and don't simply provide an answer.
  9. Build motivation and commitment. Discuss how success will impact financial rewards, future opportunities, informal recognition, and other desirable consequences. Provide recognition where deserved.
  10. Establish and maintain control.
    • Discuss timelines and deadlines.
    • Agree on a schedule of checkpoints at which you'll review project progress.
    • Make adjustments as necessary.
    • Take time to review all submitted work.

In thoroughly considering these key points prior to and during the delegation process, you will find that you delegate more successfully.

Keeping Control

Now, once you have worked through the above steps, make sure you brief your team member appropriately. Take time to explain why they were chosen for the job, what's expected from them during the project, the goals you have for the project, all timelines and deadlines, and the resources on which they can draw. And agree a schedule for checking in with progress updates.

Lastly, make sure that the team member knows that you want to know if any problems occur, and that you are available for any questions or guidance needed as the work progresses.

As a manager, it's important not to micromanage. However, this doesn't mean that you must abdicate control altogether. In delegating effectively, you have to achieve a careful balance between giving enough space for people to use their abilities to best effect, while still monitoring and supporting closely enough to ensure that the job is done correctly and effectively.

The Importance of Full Acceptance

When delegated work is delivered back to you, set aside enough time to review it thoroughly. If possible, only accept good quality, complete work. If you accept work that you aren't satisfied with, your team member won't learn how to do the job properly.

To make matters worse, you then accept a whole new tranche of work that you will probably need to complete yourself. Not only does this overload you, it means that you don't have the time to do your own job properly.

Of course, when good work is returned to you, make sure to both recognize and reward the effort. As a leader, you should compliment members of your team every time you are impressed by what they have done. This effort on your part will go a long way toward building team members' self-confidence and efficiency, both of which will be improved on the next delegated task. Hence, you both win.

Key Points

At first sight, delegation can feel like more hassle than it's worth. However, by delegating effectively, you can expand your team's output and skillset.

When you arrange the workload so that you are working on the tasks that have the highest priority for you, and other people are working on meaningful and challenging assignments, you have a recipe for success.

To delegate effectively, choose the right tasks to delegate, identify the best people for the job, and support them along the way.

Check how effectively you're delegating with our "How Well Do You Delegate?" quiz.

Download Worksheet

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Comments (25)
  • Over a month ago Michele wrote
    HI Decky,

    Thank you for your feedback. We appreciate it very much.

    Mind Tools Team
  • Over a month ago Decky wrote
    Good article Indeed! Useful suggestion given on Delegation. Hiring the right person / company is the most important part of delegation. I planned to delegate some of my official work.
  • Over a month ago Midgie wrote
    Hi campnavy,
    Welcome to the Club and hope you found this article on delegation of interest and useful.

    I wonder if the delegation worksheet that you are referring to is the Task Delegation Worksheet that forms part of the Delegation Bite-Sized Training course? Here is link to the course: https://www.mindtools.com/community/Bite-SizedTraining/Delegation.php

    This worksheet contains prompts to outline the task you are delegating, the person you are delegating to, the completion date, specific goals, even 'when to refer back' and much more.

    If you have any further questions, come on over to the Forums and ask us. The Forums are where members ask questions and offer ideas and thoughts to others. We'd love to help and we learn so much from each so hope to see you over there.

    Mind Tools Team
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