You could probably paint your living room by yourself in a couple of days. Or you might consider inviting over three friends. If each of you paints one wall, you could complete the job by noon and all enjoy some pizza together.
It’s intuitive to understand that more hands can get a job done faster, but in the workplace, some managers struggle to let go and delegate tasks. Whether you’re painting a room or launching a new product, distributing tasks is often the most effective way to get things done.
What is delegation?
Delegation is the practice of distributing work and responsibilities among employees or team members. Effective delegation allows your workers to complete projects faster, develop new skills, and help your team maximize productivity.
Managers can choose to delegate tasks to employees to even out workloads or match employees with projects that align with their abilities and career goals. As a manager, improving your delegation skills can free up time to focus on the big picture and help you become a more effective leader.
What are the benefits of learning to delegate effectively?
Appropriately delegating work is a win-win—it benefits managers and employees alike. Consider some of the ways delegating can help your team reach its goals:
- Complete projects quickly. Your team can tackle and complete tasks faster when every member has a clear directive and opportunity to contribute.
- Decrease stress. Delegating tasks evenly can reduce individual workloads and ensure too much work doesn’t pile up on any one person, minimizing stress for everyone.
- Increase job satisfaction. Offering employees the opportunity to take on meaningful and challenging assignments can help them feel valued.
- Improve accuracy. Errors can occur when an employee is overwhelmed by too many tasks. Delegating effectively can ensure that each team member has enough time to produce high-quality work. It can also lighten your own workload, leaving you time to review the final product.
- Encourage career growth. Trusting your employees with more responsibility allows them to grow and develop new skills.
What are the challenges of effectively delegating?
Despite the potential benefits, many managers still struggle to embrace a delegation process. Consider the reasons managers sometimes balk at delegating:
- Loss of control. Some managers may feel a desire to maintain control over specific tasks. Managers can mitigate this concern and demonstrate effective leadership by working with employees on a project to achieve the desired results.
- Fear of falling behind. Some managers worry that explaining a task to an employee will take too much time, leading to missed deadlines. This might be true in the short term, but taking the time to bring employees up to speed can set your team up for long-term success. When a similar delegated task comes up, they’ll be ready to go.
- Interest in the project. Managers may resist assigning exciting or important projects to other employees because they are interested in the work themselves. However, a manager’s main job is supporting the team; sharing challenging assignments may help keep team members engaged in their roles.
- Concern for the team. Fear of overburdening employees may keep a manager from delegating. Good communication can make this process easier. Managers can talk with team members to assess their bandwidth before they assign work.
When to delegate work
Learning to delegate is important, but you don’t need to hand over your entire job. These are some reasons to consider assigning tasks to other members of the team:
- Growth opportunities. If a team member has expressed interest in a specific area, delegation might offer professional development opportunities. For example, an employee interested in analytics could start by pulling data for quarterly reports.
- Increased workload. Having too much on your plate can make it difficult to be an effective manager. Use delegation to ensure you have time to complete all aspects of your own job properly.
- Skills match. If a new project is particularly suited to a specific person’s skills or background, delegating can be a way to effectively leverage their experience. If your company is launching a new email campaign targeting farmers and one of your copywriters raises chickens at home, they might bring unique insights to the project.
How to delegate effectively as a manager
Consider these five steps to set your team up with a clear delegation process:
Before delegating responsibility, take the time to check in with your employees. Provide context for any new projects, and gauge their ability to take on more work.
2. Understand every employee’s strengths
Understanding your employees can help you delegate the right tasks to the right person. Make an effort to understand your team’s professional backgrounds, individual working styles, and interests.
3. Provide instructions
When you delegate a task, provide clear instructions so your employee can begin working with confidence. Include information about how to complete the project and why it’s important to the team.
4. Answer questions
Be a resource for your team. Make sure your employees know they can come to you if they need clarification or help along the way.
5. Be open to feedback
Be open to feedback about the amount and type of work that you delegate. Employees may feel that they have too much or too little work, or that they require additional support to work effectively.
Delegation practices to avoid as a manager
Although delegation has clear benefits, managers should avoid the following:
- Micromanaging. Overseeing every step of the process is inefficient and unlikely to improve performance. Monitoring progress is fine, but give your employees space to do their work.
- Taking credit. If you’re presenting work or ideas completed by team members, be sure to credit them. Taking credit for someone else’s work may hurt team morale.
- Not checking in. Although you want to avoid micromanaging, it’s also possible to be too hands-off. Consider setting up weekly check-ins or asking for progress updates to make sure your employees stay on track.
- Not reviewing work. Review projects to make sure they have been completed successfully. Ultimate accountability for your team’s work lies with the manager, so double-checking is in your best interest.
- Not providing feedback. Provide feedback to let your team know how they're doing. Positive feedback builds confidence, while constructive feedback helps employees improve.
- Delegating managerial tasks. Avoid delegating managerial tasks that fall outside of an individual's job description. For example, peers may offer feedback to one another, but it’s always the manager’s job to deliver formal performance reviews.
- Upward delegation. Upward delegation occurs when a lower-level employee passes delegated work back up to someone at a higher organizational level. Before you accept work from an employee, ask yourself why they couldn’t complete the task. It may be a sign that they need additional support or that they lack the skills or abilities to do the work.
How to delegate FAQ
Can I ensure an employee isn’t overwhelmed when delegated new tasks?
Work to develop a strong understanding of your team’s capacity before assigning tasks. Maintain open lines of communication with your employees and ask for feedback about their workload. If an employee has too much on their to-do list, be open to adjusting deadlines or shifting priorities. Split up time-consuming tasks among team members.
What do I do if I delegate a task and it’s performed incorrectly?
If an assignment is returned with errors, have a conversation with the responsible team member. Express your concerns, provide specific feedback, and give them an opportunity to ask questions. Ask the employee to make any necessary changes, and encourage them to seek help when needed. Next time, set up meetings to check progress and give workers the information they need to do a job effectively. This should help prevent errors before they occur.
What are some factors to consider when choosing whom to delegate to?
Make an effort to match employee strengths and interests with suitable projects. Consider each team member’s current workload and other responsibilities before assigning tasks as well.