How to Delegate For Success: A Guide To Effective Delegation
A tactical, step-by-step guide on how to delegate effectively as a leader.
Delegation is one of the most important skills to build as a leader, especially in a rapidly-growing startup. It allows you to work more effectively and efficiently, while building up the skillsets of your team members.
But delegation isn't always easy. How do you know who should be doing what? How can you be a hands-on manager without micromanaging? And how do you ensure that your team members are actually completing their tasks?
Here's a tactical guide on how to delegate effectively:
1. Delegate to the right people
Set team members up for success by delegating to their strengths.
Delegate tasks that someone else could handle more effectively than you can — not just because they're easy or routine, but because it is something they enjoy or are great at. For example, if someone on your team has great writing skills, ask them to handle all email communications for a project instead of trying to do it yourself (and failing).
If you've been having career conversations with your team members and have jointly identified areas they're looking to grow in, challenge them to work on tasks that will help them gain experience in those areas.
Remember to not delegate heavy tasks or projects to someone who already has a lot on their plate, it's a recipe for burnout.
2. Start with why
Share how the task impacts customers & the team.
The best delegators don't just give out tasks and disappear. They make sure their team understands why it's important that they complete the task, and they do it in a way that makes them care.
Simon Sinek always reminds us to Start With Why. In order to get better buy-in from your team, share the following:
- Why is this task important?
- What are you trying to accomplish?
- How does this impact customers?
- How does this solve problems for our team?
The more you can get your team members excited about how their contribution fits into the larger scheme of things, the more motivated they'll be to complete tasks with excellence. Context is so important.
3. Communicate expectations clearly
Describe what needs to get done.
Be clear about what you expect from your team members, starting with the purpose and objective for the task.
Be straightforward on what you’re looking for in the deliverable. How do you want it delivered? Is it a customer-facing presentation, a document, a wireframe, a live app, a slide deck, or a dashboard?
Include any key details that may affect how quickly or efficiently they complete the task(s). Make sure this information is documented somewhere so that everyone involved has access to it — whether it’s an email, document or spreadsheet online — so there aren’t any misunderstandings later down the road.
It's also useful to share what's in scope and out of scope if you're in a time crunch.
4. Establish clear deadlines
When does the task need to be completed by?
Break the task down into manageable chunks (which I like to call milestones), with definite dates for each step and be clear what you want to see at each stage. This helps your team members plan accordingly and ensure that they have enough time to complete the task.
You should also be open to feedback from your team members on timelines (for example, if they think it might take longer than expected).
5. Remove ambiguity by requesting a recap
Clarify that the person assigned the task understands what is being asked of them.
Many times, when a task is not being done right, the fault lies in the one who delegated it. Ensure that your instructions aren't overly ambiguous or misinterpreted by asking your team members to recap what they believe they should deliver, and the timeline they are expected to do so to clear up any doubts. It might feel awkward the first time you do it, but trust me, it's incredibly helpful. To ease the discomfort, you could say this: "Could you quickly recap what we agreed upon?"
Encourage your team members to ask questions up front too! This makes it easier for both parties involved in the communication process (you and them) and lowers the risk of miscommunication issues down the road, which could lead to confusion and escalate to anger or frustration.
6. Provide adequate resources
Give access to tools, documents, people and/or training.
In order to delegate effectively, you need to make sure that your team has all of the resources they need in order to complete the project successfully. You should provide:
- Access to the right software, tools and equipment
- Access to support from other teams and budget as needed
- Access to data points
- Up-to-date documents and information about how things work, both internally and externally
Try to do this ahead of time so they don’t have to ask for help every time something goes wrong (which can cause frustration and slow down productivity). For example, if you want someone on your team to be able to send an email out to customers, but they don't have access to your email software, they won't be able to do it.
If someone has never done something before, make sure that you invest time into training them. This helps to advance and deepen their skills. A trained team member will be able to deliver more quickly since they don't have to waste time figuring things out on their own. Furthermore, they'll feel empowered instead of getting that sinking feeling of being thrown into the deep end of a pool with no context. You've been there before and know what it feels like, so make sure you don't re-create that horrible experience for someone else!
7. Give feedback throughout the process
Check in and give clear, actionable feedback with examples.
One of my favorite mantras is Trust, but verify. Always trust that your team members can perform and deliver on time, and give them freedom to carry out the project in their style, but remember to verify that they're delivering on time, and to the quality standards you've agreed upon.
With regular check-ins, something goes wrong or takes longer than expected, you can address it right away rather than waiting for the final deadline to pass, then having an issue with quality control or deadlines being missed.
Provide team members with feedback during the process so they can adjust accordingly if necessary. Don't wait till the end to share what you're thinking.
Make sure you praise good work when it's done. This helps your team members feel a sense of accomplishment and motives them to continue doing good work.
If something is not delivered to your expectations, don't shy away from giving negative feedback, but remember to do so with care.
For example: "I'm glad that you were able to get all of these tasks done in time. Can I give you some guidance or advice for improvement? I noticed that some of them weren't completed as thoroughly as others, like [task] which could have been better [area of improvement] " Specific, timely and actionable feedback helps your team member learn from their mistakes so that next time around they'll be able to do an even better job.
Remember to ask for feedback as well - it's always a two-way street.
8. Offer help, but don't take over
Provide a teaching opportunity, not an opportunity to micromanage.
Don't delegate, then walk away. You don't want your team members to feel like they're working in a vacuum, or even worse, that they don't have the autonomy or support you promised them. Always be available for questions, and offer help when you're asked for it.
Some questions you can ask your team members include:
- Are there any blockers that you're facing?
- How can I help unblock you?
- What is your biggest challenge right now?
- Do you have any ideas for how we could improve this process?
- Do you need anything from anyone that you're not getting?
- What could I do to make you more successful in this project?
Are you a perfectionist? Resist the urge to step in and finish up tasks in an unsolicited manner for your team members. By micromanaging your team, you undermine their confidence. Instead, offer guidance and help unblock them. Take a fail-forward approach and treat any potential failures as a learning lesson.
P.S. You really don't need to approve every single thing, or be cc-ed in all the emails. Trust your team to make the right decisions.
9. Be flexible and open to suggestions
Keep an open mind to ideas and suggestions.
Remember that your team members are incredible people with great ideas, unique perspectives and skills. You may have an idea of how things should be done, but your team members might come up with ways of doing things that you hadn't thought of before, or even find better solutions than the ones you had originally planned on implementing. If they do, don't be afraid to try them out and see if they work!
10. Conduct a retrospective
Close the loop by holding a retrospective meeting to reflect and improve.
Once the task is complete, run a quick retrospective session with your team members to identify strengths and weaknesses in the process, so you're set up for success the next time round.
Questions to ask:
- What went well?
- What could be improved?
- What lessons can we draw from this experience and apply to future projects?
Listen actively and record down your learnings in a retrospective document that you can refer back to when you start something new.
To improve how you delegate, there are some self-reflection questions that you can ruminate upon as well:
- Did my team member understand what I was asking them to do?
- If not, how can I improve my communication in this area?
- How well did my team member carry out their end of the task, and was it done on time?
- If there were any issues along the way - for example, if they needed help from me or someone else - how can I avoid these problems next time by giving clearer instructions?
11. Always give credit
Give kudos where they are due, don't steal credit for others' work.
Never steal credit for your team member's hard work, or let team members steal credit from others. It breeds mistrust and makes team members feel unmotivated, unappreciated and ultimately, resentful.
If someone has done great work, give them kudos and shoutouts (public and/or private) where appropriate. This helps them develop confidence in their abilities and build trust. If there is a team-wide or client-facing presentation, give them the opportunity to present their work if they are willing to.
Hope you enjoyed this tactical guide which outlines the steps, tips, and tactics that you can use to effectively delegate as a leader. Remember, delegation is a learnable skill that can be practiced. I promise you'll get better at doing it the more you try.
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