Delegate tasks effectively – a quick guide


You got to where you are because you’re excellent at what you do. Now you face the challenge that you have more to do than you can deal with, so you need to delegate tasks to other people. People who may not match your skill and enthusiasm levels. In his book The Tao of Coaching, Max Landsberg outlines a great approach that I’ve slightly adapted through work with my clients.

To figure out how to delegate a task to someone, you need to answer two questions: How willing are they do complete the task? What’s their skill level for the task?

Depending on how you answer those questions, you need to select an appropriate strategy, as summarized in the figure below  (you can download a pdf of this figure here).

People can be low on willingness for a number of reasons. For example, your leadership style may rub them up the wrong way. A remedy for this is to think about how they need to hear about the task, not how you’d like to tell them.

Another reason is that they may find the task dull or boring. You can usually tackle this if you give them some context as to why this needs to be done. When I used to run R&D software projects, the team always kept the documentation up-to-date. This was because I framed this task as one that saved us lots of work down the road, rather than a drudge that nobody likes doing. Once people understood this (and experienced the benefit when they had to fix a bug), it was easy to keep the documentation current. A related approach involves establishing a healthy norm in the team to make sure that people each complete their fair share of the necessary but not so glamorous tasks – for the good of the team. Finally, the reasons for lack of willingness may lie outside work.  In this case, depending on your relationship with the person, you might be able to support them so that they can begin to concentrate on work again.

When skill levels are low, you can structure how you delegate the task so that they can learn what they need to complete it. You can either show them yourself or get someone else from your team to show them. Here it’s important to foster an environment in which people are allowed to make mistakes, as long as they learn from them. When skill levels are high, you need to focus on agreeing the goal for the task; leave the “how” up to them – otherwise they may feel micro-managed.

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