Delegation is a key management practice where a person or group, typically a manager or leader, assigns tasks or projects to another individual or team.
It is a critical skill necessary for effective leadership and team management, which is why you’ve likely been asked to demonstrate your delegation skills for an interview or job application!
The hard part about delegation is that it involves entrusting your authority to others by assigning a task that you are responsible for, but all the while, it’s you who still remains accountable for the outcome. So, you need to be careful and strategic in how you delegate work.
To be a good delegator, you will need to have excellent interpersonal skills. You need to define the task clearly, provide sufficient support, and create a follow-up system to ensure everyone stays on-task and maintains an acceptable level of quality.
1. Simple Everyday Examples
- Household Chores: A parent asks their child to wash the dishes after dinner.
- Group Projects: In a college assignment, one student is tasked with researching, another with writing, and another with presentation. There might even be a leader who’s tasked with delegating group roles.
- Moving Day: A person relocating to a new apartment asks a friend to handle renting the moving van while they manage the packing.
- Event Planning: For a family reunion, one relative is put in charge of food, another of invitations, and a third of organizing games.
- Neighborhood Committee: The head of the homeowners’ association asks a resident to organize the upcoming yard sale event.
- Vacation Planning: In a group trip, one friend books the flights, another reserves accommodations, and another plans daily activities.
- Garage Sale: One family member prices items, another manages the cash box, and kids hand out flyers in the neighborhood.
- Cooking a Meal: In preparing dinner, one person is responsible for the main dish, another for side dishes, and another for dessert.
- Gardening: A couple divides tasks – one mows the lawn, and the other plants and waters flowers.
- Home Repairs: In a DIY project, one roommate assembles furniture while the other paints the room.
- Pet Care: Among siblings, one might feed the pet every morning while another takes the pet for evening walks.
- Grocery Shopping: One person creates the shopping list while the other goes to the store to buy the items.
- Budgeting: In managing household finances, one partner handles bill payments, while the other tracks and manages savings.
- Healthcare: A caregiver might ask a family member to pick up medications from the pharmacy while they attend to the patient’s needs.
- Car Maintenance: One spouse fills the gas, and the other is responsible for taking the car for regular service checks.
2. Workplace Delegation
- Project Management: The project manager assigns specific tasks to team members based on their expertise, such as data analysis, writing the report, or creating visuals.
- Meeting Preparation: A team leader asks an assistant to set up the conference room and prepare the presentation slides for an upcoming meeting.
- Client Relations: The head of a department delegates client communication to an account manager to maintain relationships and ensure project delivery.
- Research: A manager assigns a team member to investigate market trends and compile a report.
- Documentation: A senior engineer asks a junior engineer to document the steps of a newly developed process.
- Training: A supervisor delegates the responsibility of onboarding new hires to a seasoned employee.
- Quality Assurance: The product manager delegates the task of testing a new software feature to the QA team.
- Inventory Management: The store manager asks an employee to take stock and reorder supplies as necessary.
- Budgeting: The department head tasks a team member with tracking monthly expenses and ensuring they stay within the allocated budget.
- Event Organization: For an office event, one employee is tasked with catering, another with venue setup, and a third with sending out invitations.
- Feedback Gathering: After a product launch, the marketing head assigns a team member to gather customer feedback.
- Scheduling: A manager asks an administrative assistant to organize and schedule weekly team meetings.
- IT Support: The office manager delegates to the IT department the task of setting up new software on all company computers.
- Design: A content creator assigns the design aspect of a project to a graphic designer while focusing on content production.
- Travel Arrangements: For an upcoming business trip, an executive asks their assistant to handle flight and hotel bookings.
What Makes a Good Delegator?
Good delegators have a range of important soft skills, some of which I’ve outline below:
- Trusting relationships: The key to a good relationship between team members is trust. The manger needs to have trust that their team members will deliver the quality required and use sound judgement. This is hard, and takes time – so, the leader needs to focus on trust building, which often only emerges through time and team-building.
- Teaching skills: When delegating tasks, we often need to teach. We have to teach how to do the task to a certain level of quality, but also teach those little bits of implicit knowledge involved in doing the task. This teaching relationship isn’t one-and-done. You’re going to be constantly teaching and supporting the people you’re delegating tasks to.
- Communication skills: When delegating tasks, you need to communicate very clearly and explicitly. Don’t miss details, don’t be vague or ambiguous, and always err on the site of adding more context and explanation than necessary. Furthermore, allow unjudgemental space and time for questions and back-and-forth to really ensure the information is clearly and unambiguously understood.
- Organizational skills: Delegators need to be organized because, before long, you’ll have 5 or 6 tasks delegated to various people, and you need to be organized enough to know who’s doing what, when their deadlines are due, and how each deadline interacts with other deadlines. You’ll need all your “ducks in a row” in order to effectively manage a complex team project.
- High expectations: This one is hugely important. Set high expectations of your team and they’ll rise to the expectations. If you give the impression that hard work is not necessary, or near enough is good enough, then the team will meet those lower expectations every time.
Pros and Cons of Delegation (Avoid these Pitfalls!)
Delegation offers a plethora of advantages if you can get it right. Here are just a few.
- Productivity: Firstly, it helps in maximizing productivity. As a business owner, there came a point when I couldn’t do all the tasks on my own. In order to grow my business and ensure everything was done by the end of the day, I needed to delegate to staff. Delegation allows us to free up our own time to focus on strategic decisions, planning for the future, and crisis management, while ensuring all the essential work gets done.
- It Builds Competency (And Motivation): By delegating tasks, you provide team members with the opportunity to gain skills and knowledge that can enhance their work proficiency and build their own career skills. This empowers them to take more responsibility, subsequently leading to increased job satisfaction and motivation.
- A Culture of Trust: Effective delegation cultivates a culture of trust. Assigning tasks signifies that you trust your team members’ capability to perform the task, thereby fostering a trusting work environment.
- Decision-Making and Specialization: Lastly, delegation can lead to better decision-making. Since more employees are involved in the process, it creates a broader perspective and, therefore, more informed decision-making. In fact, if you’re doing it right, delegating isn’t just about giving lackeys work. It’s about assigning tasks to specialists who will have insights that will improve the final product.
Delegation, while beneficial, can sometimes present challenges. Believe me, I’ve had a lot of trouble building my own delegation skills over the years, and I’ve fallen for most of the following delegation traps!
- Miscommunication: If tasks and responsibilities are not clearly explained, it can lead to confusion, mistakes, and inefficiency. It’s essential to ensure that the person receiving the task fully understands the requirements and expectations. One way I like to ensure this is by asking my employees to explain to me what they think they need to do, then communicate any necessary adjustments to their procedure from there.
- Quality Control: This is the one that always gets me. There’s always the risk of unmet deadlines or subpar results when delegating tasks. People like me, who have high standards and like to have a high degree of control, often find it hard to delegate because I’m worried quality may decrease. The solution, I think, is to train, train, train and keep those lines of communication open!
- Overdependence: Team members might become too reliant on their leaders or managers to provide guidance, and as a result, may become less proactive in their roles. One good tip I learned to address this was to delegate outcomes, not tasks. If people have a task, they are focused on the task rather than the outcome. If they know the outcome, they have a clear eye on the ultimate goal.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]