Delegating for Success

by | Sep 28, 2010 | 7 comments

Do you delegate well?

Or do you instead decide, “I will just do it myself.”

Many of you probably think, “I have no one to delegate to!”

Over the past few years, I have delegated MASSIVE amounts of work  –  even work that is typically MINE to do. I have found that delegation gets me better results than if I am just doing the work myself. But —- I had to learn to delegate.

My delegation method

Here are some steps you can use to decide if a task needs delegating:

1) Does it matter? So often work produces more work. We get caught up in activities and we never question if these tasks are even valuable anymore. When tasks start to overwhelm you, the first question is not about delegation – but instead about elimination. If a task can be eliminated – do that instead. So much of what binds us is busy work that does not add to the bottom line.

2) Have the right people. If you have the wrong people on your team – your job is going to be harder. The whole reason to have a team is to reach better results faster. If you do not have the right skills in your current people – get new people! Wait – did you say you did not even HAVE a team? We all think that “team” means we have to have employees- but I beg to differ. People on your team might be employees but they could also be co-workers, your boss (yes, you can delegate up), and even vendors or contractors. In case you need inspiration about delegation at all levels of the company – see Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Workweek.

3) Clearly define the outcomes. What do you want the results of the project to look like? Even if you are delegating to your boss – be clear about what is desired. The key to delegating to non-employees is making sure you have a win-win objective. And remember – MOST projects do not have clearly defined outcomes. Even those large corporate million dollar projects often lack defined outcomes. Yes – MOST PROJECTS. Think about the one you are working on now…. do you know what the desired outcome is?

4) Decide on the WHO should do the task. This is not as tricky as it might sound – and in my case it is usually obvious.

5) Teach and train where needed. If you need a task done a certain way and that specific skill set is missing then make the connection. Do not assume things will be done your way unless you have provided the proper resources – and this MIGHT include training. This step is particularly crucial when you are delegating tasks you normally consider routine. Even if you are handing a task off to a professional like CPA – make sure you and they talk about what you expect.

6) Set time for follow-up. If it matters to you – follow up. If it does not matter – see step 1. Perhaps it is better to delegate the “following-up” step – but until you know you have a trusted team member – the follow up falls on you.

I know we all think about delegation as a management job – but it is ALL our jobs. Most of us are paid for results – and if we can get the results done better and faster – we are more valuable. Remember that the goal is not about working more hours – but about working more resources.


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Dale Callahan

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  1. Mallorie Robinson


    Your method for successful delegation is awesome. To be completely honest, at first, I thought managing and delegating were the same thing but after reading your article it is clearly a difference. Anyone on a team can delegate. That person takes the initiative and possess passion for their work; therefore, their team can produce satisfactory outcomes. I think what tends to weigh teams down at times is busy work. We get so caught up on trying to produce more than enough information for task completion, teams get overwhelmed. That is why I’m glad you stated that overwhelming tasks could simply be eliminated. I also liked objective 5. Train and teach other team members who lack certain skill sets. I beleive a good leader should possess that in their character anyways. A good delegator should gain the trust of their team members and communicate well with them. Team members should feel and trust in that person’s choices and actions. I have been apart of many teams, some outcomes were good and some were bad. The teams that I have been apart never really had a plan of action for successful delegation, but I truly believe that if teams use your method for successful delegation, they would produce their desired outcome.

  2. Dhinakaran Gurusamy

    I completely agree with your steps. I am slowly getting better on delegating my tasks. The issue I have now is that I could not delegate some of my tasks because of tight deadline. It takes more time to complete the tasks if I delegate them. I also feel that I do not have full control on the tasks that I delicate and worry too much about the project deadline. Due to the project deadline I end up doing most of the tasks by myself. The other concern I have is that the majority of my tasks are related to troubleshooting, I feel it is very hard to teach troubleshooting skills if the team members do not have the right expertise.

  3. Lesley Morey

    I agree about having to learn to delegate. I tend to take on a lot of tasks, and leading a large development initiative at work has helped me learn how to not be reluctant to rely on others to complete tasks. We use a SharePoint site as our main communication tool, and utilize the Task List for this purpose. We follow up on each outstanding task in our weekly internal team meetings, or status meetings with the business for tasks they may be responsible for. I have found that this tool helps us all stay on the same page, and everyone is aware of what they are expected to do.

  4. Cedric Matthews

    This is good advice. Reading this made me reflect on the reasons for the some project managers’ failed attempts that I have witnessed as a result of premature delegation. Out of the six steps listed the two that stand out the most for me are steps three and five. Step 3, defining the outcomes to make sure that each team member has the same interpretation of what the project’s objectives are is paramount. So many times I have seen a project manager begin a project and scatter tasks amongst the team without ever having a conversation with each team member to see if thier interpretation of what the objectives are is correct. Unfortunately the team members work on thier individual assignments only to return with products that do not integrate well, and thus do not meet the project manager’s expectations.

  5. Cheryl Johnson

    Delegating has always been a challenge for me. Even before I became a manager, it was always difficult for me to ask for help. Somehow I equated delegating to slacking off or not doing my share. Like many others, I’ve always had that drive to do the best that I can at any job. In the past, when I found myself failing behind, asking for help just never seemed to be the solution.

    I think I just found it hard to trust others with my responsibilities. After all, I was hired to do the job, and if it didn’t get done, then I would be blamed. Even after I was promoted to a supervisory position, which requires that I delegate task out to the staff, it was still difficult for me. It got to a point where I started looking at others at work wondering why they always seemed to have free time and I didn’t; blaming them for my suffering and stress level. But I soon came to realize that I was blessed with working with capable and talented people; so the problem was not them, it was me.

    My supervisor noticed my level of frustration and sent me to some management courses taught at UAB. There I took an excellent course on Delegating that helped me see the true power and purpose of delegation; which is development. The instructor explained that delegating is not only something that relieves you of a job or activity that no longer needs your direct attention; but it is also an opportunity for you to develop your staff or the people around you. Delegating task or jobs to your team members can give them opportunity to get experience and even noticed by others.

    This course helped me to see that we often become attached to certain jobs or tasks; being that go-to-person that everyone in the office comes to for help. Often being perceived the expert or the go-to-person will get you plenty of positive attention and will most often lead to promotion. But this role can also become very addictive. So addictive that you begin to rely on that attention even when continuing to do that task becomes a burden. I’ve previously found myself in this position; not willing to give up an jobs that I considered mine until I found myself overworked, constantly trying to catch up and just worn out.

    The delegating class opened my eyes to the fact that if I continued to do my old job, refusing to delegate, I would never become efficient at my new position. I also learned that I was also denying others in the office the opportunity to grow as well. We so often forget that our main purpose in life, as well as at work, is to help others. By delegating task to your team or co-workers, this allows them to learn new skills and build their own work portfolio. When I realized that my actions were not only foolish, but also selfish, I begin to see the importance of delegation. I now often find myself looking for opportunities to train and develop my staff and it has also allowed me to be a more trusting person; I now find it easier to ask for help in a time of need.

  6. Mike Gann

    Delegation is still one of the hardest lessons I’m learning in my day-to-day functions. I tend to hold my tasks close and take personal ownership when I most likely shouldn’t. I like Cheryl’s point in teaching your delegates through task assignment. I’ve been told many times that I’ll never advance until I train my replacement and that’s a lesson that’s ever so slowly sinking in.

    To the point about having the right people, we recently hired a new tier I/II helpdesk technician who has turned out to be a really nice fit for us. Once I realized their capabilities, I was able to ask them to take on some of the things I’ve been working on and make a great deal of progress on some of the larger projects I’m tasked with. It really makes a difference in my attitude at work and the morale of the team. Along the lines of what Dhinakaran said, troubleshooting is a collection of experience and the ability to apply it methodically so having the right person to do that saves an incredible amount of time once you learn to stop checking up on them – as often.

    While you certainly can, be careful about delegating up and how you go about it. I’d recommend you present solutions when possible as opposed to just problems or tasks. I’ve often been told to push back on management for help with any number of issues, but I’ve found that arming myself with ideas along with my problem statements gets me heard over the rest of the din my boss might be trying to deal with.

  7. Dan Prabhu

    Delegating is the one of the most difficult things to accomplish; you are not born with genes to delegate nor are you taught to delegate but somewhere along the way you have figured out how things are done in an orderly fashion. You make great points and all of which I have experienced and gone through the phases you have described.
    First I had to realize that I didn’t know everything and to identify what is relevant, that’s not an easy task. It was months before I realized what was ridiculous and needed to be eliminated from routines employees were used to. It’s almost instant, that you question if you have the right employees to the job and are they capable of handling change. I remember someone once telling me that my job was to give my job away, it occurred to me when I was promoted to my new job. I had to tread lightly to see how my team would handle delegation. The key is not to be over bearing from the very beginning but to start out small and grow into a delegating position without quick imposition. Start with delegating small tasks and see how employees perform and to sustain a trust factor. I’ve seen at times when individuals are placed in a position which requires delegation; it was not always the right fit because they don’t have the people skills and to this day I don’t know how some of these people keep their jobs. I’m not saying these individuals don’t know what they are doing but delegating is a skill which deals with people, and some are not qualified.
    Learning to let go of things because I didn’t think anyone else could do the job was incorrect on my part. Part of giving my job away was to share what I knew and train the others on my team. The more I communicated with the team, more I was able to give my job away and build a trust with the team. I started slowly to delegate projects and tasks I no longer had time for and so far it has worked out. I can’t say it’s perfect but I’m making progress and my team is moving forward.


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