All managers and leaders must master the art of the delegation process. Understanding how and when to allocate responsibility to others is essential in maintaining a high level of productivity, both on a personal and organizational level. Delegating tasks is also essential for effective leadership.
To learn how to delegate is to build a cohesive and effective team that can meet deadlines. Moreover, knowing when and how to delegate work will reduce your workload, thus improving your well-being at work and boosting your job satisfaction. Unfortunately, many leaders are unsure how to delegate properly or are hesitant to do so.
In this guide, you will discover what delegation really entails, how delegating tasks benefits your team, and how to assign tasks effectively.
Table of Contents
- The Importance of Delegating Tasks
- Why Do People Fear Delegating Tasks?
- The Difference Between Delegation and Allocation
- How to Delegate Tasks Effectively
- 1. Know When to Delegate
- 2. Identify the Best Person for the Job
- 3. Tell and Sell to Get the Member Buy-In
- 4. Be Clear and Specific About the Work
- 5. But Leave the Details up to Them
- 6. Make Consequences Clear
- 7. Don’t Pay to Delegate What You Can Eliminate
- 8. Take Feedback Seriously
- 9. Support Your Employees
- 10. Show Your Appreciation
- Bottom Line
The Importance of Delegating Tasks
A good leader knows how to delegate. When you delegate some of your work, you free up your time and achieve more on a daily basis.
Effective delegation also promotes productivity and good time management within a team by drawing on the existing skill set of its members and allowing them to develop new knowledge and competencies along the way. The result is a more flexible team that can share roles when the need arises.
When you are willing to delegate, you promote an atmosphere of confidence and trust. Your actions send a clear signal: as a leader, you trust your subordinates to achieve desired outcomes. As a result, they will come to think of you as a likeable and effective leader who respects their skills and needs.
Delegation isn’t about barking orders and hoping that your staff falls in line. A manager’s job is to get the very best from those under their supervision and, in doing so, maximize productivity and profit.
Here’s an example of bad delegation:
Careful delegation helps to identify and capitalize on the unique strengths and weaknesses of the team members. Delegation also boosts employees’ engagement as it proves that the managers are interested in drawing on their talents.
Why Do People Fear Delegating Tasks?
Delegation boosts productivity, but not all managers are willing or able to delegate. Why? Here’re some common reasons:
- They resent the idea that someone else may get the credit for a project.
- They are willing to delegate in principle but are afraid their team won’t be able to handle more responsibility.
- They suspect that their staff is already overworked and feel reluctant to increase their burden.
- They suspect that it’s simpler and quicker just to do a task themselves.
- They dislike the idea of letting go of tasks they enjoy doing.
- They fear that if they delegate responsibility, their manager will conclude that they can’t handle their workload.
The Difference Between Delegation and Allocation
Most people think that delegation and allocation are synonymous, but there is an important distinction to be made between the two. 
When you allocate a task, you are merely instructing a subordinate to carry out a specific action. You tell them what to do, and they do it—it’s that simple.
On the other hand, delegation involves transferring some of your own work to another person. They do not just receive a set of instructions. The important part is that they are placed in a role that requires that they make decisions and are held accountable for completing the task. 
How to Delegate Tasks Effectively
So what’s the best way to delegate work so you can fight the fear of delegation, build an efficient team, and work faster? Here’s a step-by-step guide:
1. Know When to Delegate
By understanding how much control you need to maintain over a situation, you can determine the best strategy for empowering workers. There are 7 levels of delegation that offer workers different degrees of responsibility.
This brief video explains these levels and offers examples of when it’s appropriate to use each one:
Delegation occurs along a spectrum. The lowest level of delegation happens when you tell other people what to do. It offers little opportunity for employees to try new approaches. The most empowering form of delegation occurs when you are able to give up most of your control over the project to the employee.
Knowing how to delegate work helps you understand how to connect people with tasks that make the best use of their talents. When done properly, it ensures that you will get the best end result.
When you’re thinking of task delegation, ask the following questions:
- Do you have to be in charge of this task, or can someone else pull it off?
- Does this require your attention to be successful?
- Will this work help an employee develop their skills?
- Do you have time to teach someone how to do this job?
- Do you expect tasks of this nature to recur in the future?
Tasks That You Should Always Delegate
When you’re just getting into delegation, it is quite common to feel like you’re delegating too much work. Inexperienced managers usually feel like they are over-burdening their employees, giving away their own tasks, or asking subordinates to do what’s not their job.
While all these concerns are 100% valid and should always be avoided, they can keep you from delegating the work that has to be distributed among your team.
This defeats the purpose of delegation even if you are well-aware of how to delegate tasks effectively.
Here are some tasks that you should always delegate. However, reason with yourself according to the environment of your workplace to make the final decision.
Every office has a fair share of a few projects that are recurring and repetitive.
Now, these jobs are either the same every time or even with a slight variation, they require a similar work process and skillset. For example, auditing, budgeting, event planning, etc.
Such tasks have to be done every day, weekly, fortnightly, or monthly. The problem here is that even if these jobs are quick and easy, a manager is wasting time doing them.
You should always delegate projects like these so that you can save up a lot of your precious time in the long run.
Simultaneously, you can train your subordinates to perfection for jobs like these. With regular practice, your subordinates can begin to work on level 5 of delegation, which is where the employees can work independently.
Whether or not you want to categorize annual projects in this category depends on how often the employees in your organization are promoted or replaced. If the same people will be around to do the job for 3 to 4 years at least, it is best to train them for it.
One of the most prominent features of delegation is that it helps save time. So, it is only right if you delegate the work that will take up too much of your time.
Instead of spending a week on one project, you should spend a few hours explaining the work to your subordinates and let them take charge.
This way, not only will you clear your own schedule, but it will also get the job done quicker. Since delegation is all about distributing work among a team, more people can work together on one project simultaneously. This will cut down a huge chunk of the work that goes into it.
What this means is that if there are tasks that are time-consuming but have a short deadline, you must always delegate them. It is an easy and fool-proof method to tick off big projects on your to-do list!
Projects That Boost Basic Skills
While delegating work, you shouldn’t forget that as a leader or manager, you also must encourage skills in your subordinates.
Certain projects are too complicated for people that do not have the skills to do the job. However, some challenges are a healthy way to encourage your team to broaden their skillset.
If you don’t offer opportunities, your team will never grow. And that is a huge failure as a management leader.
Whatever Is Beyond Your Job Description
Every person in an organization has a defined job description. These are the duties that the person has to fulfill.
As a leader, you too will have a job description, and you don’t have to do anything beyond it unless there is no one else skilled enough to do it.
Ideally, anything that isn’t a part of your job description should be delegated. This isn’t done with selfish intentions. Instead, it is important to do so, or else you won’t have enough time to fulfill the tasks that are actually a part of your job.
Things that are out of your job description are generally tasks that can be done easily by your team. Even if they face difficulties, you should only offer help and assistance instead of taking on the entire job.
Keeping the employees interested in what they do is one difficult job that a manager must do.
To keep the motivation levels high, you should delegate more fun work. Things that your employees will enjoy doing, let them.
So, for example, if you’ve noticed that your team enjoys outdoor tasks, assign them jobs that require work to be done outside your office building. Other interesting tasks include field research, event planning, etc.
Work That Your Subordinates Are More Skilled In
Just because you’re leading a group of people does not mean you have all the skills that they don’t have.
There may be something that your subordinates are way better at. For instance, you might not be very tech-oriented, but someone in your team could be.
So, jobs that require skills that someone in your team is better at should always be delegated. Do not take it personally or make it a matter of ego.
Tasks You Should Never Delegate
Generally, once a manager gets comfortable with delegating work, all the concerns that were previously there vanish.
While that is a good thing, some leaders may begin to ignore those issues completely.
They may over-delegate and assign tasks that aren’t in the job description of the subordinates. Sometimes, managers delegate every single task and they are left behind with so much free time.
To avoid this from happening, you should never delegate the tasks with the following nature. However, the final decision depends on the nature of the exact task and your workplace.
Work That Takes Long to Explain
Imagine spending 3 hours explaining something that you could’ve done in 30 minutes yourself.
That defeats the entire essence of delegation, doesn’t it?
So if something needs deep explanation and has a long instruction manual even though the task itself isn’t that elaborate, your best bet is to avoid delegating it. Similarly, if you think you can do a job quicker yourself, do it.
Certain matters just cannot be put into the hand of the employees.
High priority and confidential jobs should never be delegated. These tasks are highly important so your expertise should come in handy. Moreover, assigning such jobs to the team can lead to a breach of privacy and other similar issues.
Decision-making tasks such as appraisals, employee hiring, and other similar things also fall in the same category.
Every organization has to plan for the worst-case scenario. Such decisions are of high importance. You cannot risk letting your team, which is generally less experienced than you, to make these choices.
You should plan and develop for the future of your organization yourself. The subordinates are just not in the position to do these jobs due to the lack of their exposure and level of responsibility.
As mentioned previously, you have to keep the employees interested and highly motivated.
Boring tasks can demotivate employees. They take away the enthusiasm which eventually cuts down on the quality of the output produced.
Keep boring tasks to yourself. This is a sacrifice you’ll have to make to keep the morale of your team up.
Very Specific Work
This is only applicable to a work which is already broken down into a small task. There is little to no room for creativity, and the instructions are very detailed and exact.
Now, the expectations are to produce an output that is exactly what is being asked for. Since such tasks are too specific, only one person should do it.
If a project like this is delegated, there is a high chance of slight variation in the results caused by individual subordinates. Therefore, the best option is that you do tasks like these on your own.
2. Identify the Best Person for the Job
You have to pass the torch to the right team member for delegation to work. Your goal is to create a situation where you, your company, and the employee have a positive experience.
Think about team members’ skills, willingness to learn, and their working styles and interests. The person you delegated will be able to carry out the work more effectively if they’re capable, coachable, and interested. When possible, give an employee a chance to play to their strengths.
Inexperienced workers may need more guidance than seasoned veterans. If you don’t have the time to set the newer employee up for success, it’s not fair to delegate to them.
You also have to consider how busy your employees are. The last thing you want to do is overwhelm someone by giving them too many responsibilities.
3. Tell and Sell to Get the Member Buy-In
After you’ve found the perfect person for the job, you still have to get them to take on the new responsibility. Let them know why you chose them for the job. When you show others that you support their growth, it builds a culture of trust. Employees who see delegated tasks as opportunities are more likely to be invested in the outcome.
When working with newer employees, express your willingness to provide ongoing support and feedback. For seasoned employees, take their thoughts and experiences into account.
4. Be Clear and Specific About the Work
It’s critical to explain to employees why the project is necessary, what you expect of them, and when it’s due. If they know what you expect, they’ll be more likely to deliver.
By setting clear expectations, you help them plan how to carry out the task. Set up project milestones so that you can check progress without micromanaging. If your employee has trouble meeting a milestone, they still have time to course correct it before the final product is due.
This type of accountability is commonly used in universities. If students only know the due date and basic requirements for completing major research papers, they might put off the work until the eleventh hour. Many programs require students to meet with advisers weekly to get guidance, address structure, and work out kinks in their methods in advance of deadlines. These measures set students up to succeed while giving them the space to produce great work.
5. But Leave the Details up to Them
Nothing kills motivation and trust like micromanagement. In a survey by staffing firm Accountemps, more than two-thirds of respondents said it hurt their morale.
If you expect something to be done a certain way, outline that in the project brief. If you can’t explain exactly what you have in mind, you might be better off doing it yourself.
If you can explain what you’re looking for in writing, and your teammate says they understand, trust them to do that. Don’t be a backseat driver once the work begins.
6. Make Consequences Clear
What happens if the person you’ve delegated a task to drops the ball? Will you just shrug your shoulders and compensate them anyway?
If you do, you’re communicating that you don’t care about their contribution. Not only does that show disrespect to the person you’re working with, but it sets low expectations for future projects.
As with incentives, it’s important to align consequences with the nature of the problem. If you could have been more clear in your instructions, then don’t punish the other person. If you trusted your life savings to your business partner, and they spent it at a casino, then you may need to contact the authorities or sever ties altogether.
Most consequences will fall somewhere in between those poles. Give others the benefit of the doubt, and don’t be mean-spirited. One missed deadline at work deserves a stern warning, not a firing. Repeated deadline problems may warrant a cut in pay or responsibilities, however.
7. Don’t Pay to Delegate What You Can Eliminate
If you are trying to palm a task off on someone else, consider whether there’s a way to eliminate it in the first place completely. If it doesn’t need to be done, you don’t need to be losing money by having someone else do it. What seems to be a given necessity isn’t always one.
There may be an automated system that can be put in place as a replacement, or it’s often simply the case that many admin tasks that take up your day aren’t necessary to begin with. Always look to eliminate before you delegate.
8. Take Feedback Seriously
Speaking of feedback, remember that it cuts two ways. In addition to giving your delegatee pointers when the project is complete, encourage them to suggest ways you could have done a better job.
Realize that power dynamics may discourage your teammate from giving you the whole story. To show them that it’s OK to speak up, you can say:
- “What could I have done better on that project?”
- “Did I set you up for success?”
- “How can I make your job easier next time?”
- “What’s the biggest mistake I made here?”
Asking for feedback, however, is only half the battle. If you want your teammates to give you the good, bad, and ugly with every project, you need to put their suggestions into practice. If you don’t, you’re telling them that you don’t value what they have to say.
9. Support Your Employees
To see the best possible outcomes of delegating, your subordinates need resources and support from you. Connect them with training and materials to develop skillsets they don’t already have.
It may take more time upfront to make resources available, but you’ll save time by having the work done correctly. For recurring tasks, this training pays off repeatedly.
What tools does your delegatee need to accomplish the task you’ve set out for them? If you don’t provide them with the things they need, then you can’t blame them for not coming through for you.
Resources can be varied. Think about:
Does the task you’re delegating require something to be purchased? If so, make sure you give your teammate the money they need to buy it.
Different people are good at different things. If the person to whom you’re delegating the task doesn’t possess every skill needed, do they have others they can lean on?
Realize that you, the person assigning them the task, also fall into this category. Will you be available for questions as they come up?
Have you provided your delegatee all the details they’ll need to get the task done? In writing, put together a list of instructions, expectations, and other notes they might need.
Practical and Physical Resources
Unless you’re expecting the person you’re working with to buy every single thing the project will entail, you’ll need to provide some supplies.
If you’re asking someone to sort a stack of paperwork, have you given them all the documents? If you want them to represent your company, do they have a uniform? Do they have a desk and an office space to work from?
Sometimes employees need help to see what they’re doing well and how they can improve. Giving and receiving feedback is an essential part of delegating tasks. This is also a good way to monitor the delegated tasks as a leader. While you can keep track of the progress of the tasks, you are not micromanaging the employees.
Throughout the project, periodically ask your employees if they need support or clarification. Make it clear that you trust them to do the work, and you want to create a space for them to ask questions and offer feedback. This feedback will help you refine the way you delegate work.
10. Show Your Appreciation
What motivation does your delegatee have to do a good job, let alone get the job done at all? In some cases, your respect and appreciation may be enough. In other cases, you’ll need to give them some sort of remuneration.
Recognizing employees when they do well helps them understand the quality of work you expect. It makes them more likely to want to work with you again on future projects.
During periodic check-ins, recognize any wins you’ve seen on the project. Acknowledge that your employees are making progress toward the objective. The Progress Principle lays out how important it is to celebrate small wins to keep employees motivated.  Workers will be more effective and dedicated if they know that you notice their efforts.
It’s important to align the task in question to the reward. You wouldn’t buy someone a new BMW because they did the dishes for you. By the same token, you can’t expect a developer to spend dozens of hours building your app for a measly $50.
When in doubt, ask. What sort of compensation does the person to whom you’re delegating the task expect?
If you don’t agree with their answer, that’s OK. But you’ll have to reach some sort of middle ground if you want to maintain a good working relationship with this person.
Now that you know exactly what delegation means and the techniques to delegate work efficiently, you are in a great position to streamline your tasks and drive productivity in your team.
To delegate is to grant autonomy and authority to someone else, thus lightening your own workload and building a well-rounded, well-utilized team.
Delegation skills might seem complicated or scary, but it gets much easier with time. Start small by delegating a couple of decisions to members of your team over the next week or two.
Don't have time for the full article? Read this.
People fear delegating because they resent the idea that someone else may get the credit for a project.
They are willing to delegate in principle but are afraid their team won’t be able to handle more responsibility.
You need to delegate to free up your time and focus on the most important activities that will help you achieve your goals.
You can delegate effectively by knowing when to delegate, identifying the best person for the job, being clear about the work, making consequences clear and taking feedback seriously.
Featured photo credit: CoWomen via unsplash.com
|||^||BOS Staffing: 5 Benefits Of Delegation – Empower Your Team|
|||^||Brian Tracy International: How to Delegate The Right Tasks To The Right People: Effective Management Skills For Leadership Success|
|||^||MindTools: Successful Delegation: Using The Power Of Other People’s Help|
|||^||Fast Company: The Three Most Common Fears About Delegation: Debunked|
|||^||Abhinav Jain: Delegation of work vs Allocation of work|
|||^||Anthony Donovan: Management Training: Delegating Effectively|
|||^||Management 3.0: Practice: Delegation Board|
|||^||business.com: Develop Your Team Using the 5 Levels of Delegation|
|||^||Harvard Business Review: How to Tell If You’re Delegating Too Much|
|||^||Focus: The Creativity and Productivity Blog: A Guide to Delegating Tasks Effectively|
|||^||Inc.: 6 Ways to Delegate More Effectively|
|||^||Harvard Business School: How to Stop Micromanaging|
|||^||The Muse: The 10 Rules of Successful Delegation|
|||^||Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer: The Progress Principle|