Knowing how to delegate effectively is one of the most powerful strings to a manager's bow, so why do we struggle with it so much?
We know that delegation gives us more time to focus on other, perhaps more important tasks. We know that it helps others to develop new skills and to enjoy more responsibility, and we know that it builds trust and demonstrates our confidence in the people around us.
But there are still the nagging doubts! We might ask ourselves, "What if they mess up and I get the blame?" "Will they do the job as well as I would?" or "Hold on, what if they do a better job than I would?" We might just feel that it would be quicker and easier to do it ourselves.
The bottom line is that we fear the loss of control. This means that even when we do delegate a task or project, we tend to "hover over the shoulder" of a now flustered and under-pressure team member, who sees us as an irritating, micromanaging pain in the proverbial!
So, how can we solve the delegation dilemma?
We wanted to hear your experiences of this common managerial pain point, so we threw out this question to our friends and followers on social media: How do you achieve the perfect balance between delegation and staying in the loop?
Delegate Clearly and Collaboratively
Clear communication and effective collaboration were common themes in many of the responses that we received.
For example, Facebook friend Ty Heilman, a sales and marketing manager from Madison, Wisconsin, U.S., said, "The word 'delegation' only applies to an effective and successful collaboration.
"Micromanagement only applies to a perceived pressure on the subordinate. To achieve the perfect balance, the leader has got to set the tone and the team members need to know how to be in tune. Then, nobody can phase each other out."
The discussion proved to be particularly popular on LinkedIn. Careers adviser Marcus Burton, from Yorkshire, U.K., said, "Delegate clearly, communicating your expectations, and check understanding with effective questioning.
"Diarize to check that the task is undertaken effectively. Offer support where necessary. However, stand back and let the other person grow and make mistakes, because that's how most people learn best. It's a lot like raising a child and teaching them to grow and become independent."
Stay in the Loop
Learning and development manager Steve O'Neill, from Portsmouth, U.K., composed an eloquent and detailed reply, and warned against taking a too hands-off approach to delegated tasks.
Steve said, "In my experience, delegation is only truly that if you do stay in the loop. Too many people make the mistake of believing they're delegating, but actually they're either abdicating or, worse, passing off a job they don't want to do themselves.
"Some important elements that I've discovered to support good delegation (and staying in the loop) are:
• Be clear why you're delegating. Your reasons must include helping the other person to grow.
• Set out exactly what your expectations are. People will be comforted by the clarity.
• Agree the regularity of how and when you will check on their progress, and stick to it.
• When you check in, agree how they are performing against your original expectations. Falling short? Meeting or exceeding? How could you help them? Give specific praise about what they have done well so they can repeat it.
• Most importantly, find out how they feel about the way things have gone. The learning here is not solely about the delegatee; you must also work out what you've learned and how you can do it all again next time, even better.
"These things can only be achieved by taking time to stay in the loop. Otherwise, I don't think it is delegation."
Delegate to the Right People
Identifying tasks that can be delegated is probably the easy part. Knowing the best person to delegate those tasks to can be the bigger challenge.
Facility manager Jodeane Anderson-Taylor, from Newcastle, Australia, said, "Having the right people in your team to delegate to is the most important thing. Having good working relationships and knowing how each team member works is very important.
"If you can’t trust the staff you're delegating to, this is when micromanaging creeps in. That does no one any favors."
L&D consultant David Heathcote, from Cambridge, U.K., added, "In my view, we should match our approach to the capabilities of the employee or team member.
"We can broadly use situational leadership and The Skill/Will Matrix to help us think about the approach. For some team members, delegation may be appropriate. For others, performance management and short-term objectives may be necessary."
Labor market innovator Louis Goulmy, from the Netherlands, appeared to suggest that delegation was a dirty word in management, and that it was the duty of managers and staff to work together outside a hierarchy.
Louis said, "There are tasks and responsibility within a team. If the team and its members want to achieve a common goal, people can go without delegated tasks or micromanagement or even managers. What you need is transparency and good communication (and trust)." (Please get in touch, Louis, if I have misinterpreted your thinking!)
Preparation Is Key
Business strategy expert Cleo Eleftheriades, currently working in Buenos Aires, Argentina, said, "I believe that the issue is to achieve efficient delegation without micromanagement. That is, to: 1) Clearly delegate a set of tasks (though not an entire project before you trust the other person); 2) Schedule overview micro-sessions on key micro-milestones; 3) Establish trust, and be supportive on follow-through, instead of controlling on follow-up. Efficient delegation demands excellent preparation, and that is what most managers fail to do."
Our Twitter followers naturally kept their responses short and sweet: @mokshaangel, from Belton, Missouri, U.S., said, "It depends how well your team communicates." And @RanaTassawar, a health professional from Karachi, Pakistan, said, "First, I delegate any task. After that, I regularly take feedback."
Feel free to continue the discussion by sharing your views in the Comments box, below!
Further reading (some resources are only available in full to Mind Tools Club members):
The Delegation Dilemma
How to Accept Delegation
How Well Do You Delegate?
Empowerment and Delegation