The feeling of giving up your authority when making key decisions, but still being responsible for the outcome, can be quite intimidating. This mindset is what leads to project managers saying things like:
- The job will get done quicker and better if I do it myself.
- If you want a job done well, you must do it yourself.
- My team members don't know how and I don't have time to train them.
- The team is over-stretched as it is and will resent any additional responsibilities.
- My team members may do too good of a job, and my ability will be questioned.
It sounds irrational but delegation actually makes some people uneasy. While it doesn't come naturally to many, attempting to do all the work only leads to increased stress and a poor quality of work delivered. For anybody in a position of authority, delegation is one of the best ways to maximise productivity, meet tight deadlines and manage large workloads.
But it's one thing to decide that a task needs to be delegated, it's another to ensure it is delegated effectively. On the one hand, avoiding delegation leads to an increased workload, less time available to work, and a load of undue stress. On the other hand, when you do delegate, you run the risk of not having the job done as well as you'd like.
Managers struggle with finding a balance, mostly because they delegate using the sequence below:
- Choose tasks to be delegated
- Find any available staff and hand the tasks off to them
- Give them basic instructions and leave them to it
- Sit back and wait for the results.
This, however, is one of the fastest routes to project failure. Effective delegation isn’t about offloading tasks that you don’t want to do. Its aim is to increase workplace efficiency, while helping to develop the skills of the team members involved. If someone doesn't have the right skill set to do a task correctly, why lump them with it?
To improve the effectiveness of your delegation, try the following 5-step process.
1) Let goTo delegate successfully, project leaders will need to take one very big risk – that is, truly let go of control. Letting go of the notion that only you have all the good ideas and taking a back seat while trusting that team members will do well is not an easy task. But remember that delegating isn't about making the decisions for your team members.
Give them the space they need to develop critical thinking skills, so they become better at coming up with their own ideas and solutions. If you're struggling with delegation because of the potential for error, start by delegating small tasks. Try to completely let go of smaller projects and if the person does a good job, give them higher priority work. This gradual approach is quite helpful as the wins build on themselves, increasing confidence and competence within the team.
2) Delegate to the right personCorrect delegation requires thought and consideration. If you delegate to the wrong person, you will often find that you spend too much time training and supporting them, which isn't ideal.
Before delegating tasks, observe your team members and learn their values, strengths, weaknesses, and their current (and potential) skills. This knowledge will allow you to match the right person to the right job and give the work to people who can actually deliver.
Poorly conveyed instructions play a major part in project failure. To increase the chances of tasks being done correctly, you have to give clear instructions. Leave no room for any guesswork regarding the task you are delegating. If you have the time, guide team members through the task a few times, let them see what the expected end result looks like, then let go.
3) Avoid any ambiguity
4) Delegate based on interestEven after matching the skill set to the task, encourage team buy-in by delegating tasks that appeal to their interests. In their book, All In, Gostick and Elston say “to get people to care, managers must create a ‘what’s in it for me’ statement for each employee”. If your team members can’t find a reason to want to do the task, they will decline. Get around this by re-framing (and rephrasing) the task so it addresses the benefits they can get from completing it.
5) Establish deadlines and checkpointsSetting definite and realistic checkpoints will improve accountability for everyone involved. Never say “do this when you can get to it”; always state what the deliverable is and on what date it is expected. By setting clearly defined checkpoints, you can manage the project from afar, while still staying in the loop at key points during the project.
To avoid coming across as a micromanager, schedule these checkpoints at reasonably spaced intervals. Rather than checking in every day, try once a week, or leaving them until they're halfway through the task.
6) Seek (and use) feedbackEffective delegation yields a ton of benefits, and it can also be used as a test to gauge your efficiency as a project manager. With the project completed, ask your team how you can improve the delegation process next time. By inviting team members to share their thoughts on your delegation abilities, you can determine if you're providing enough information and support, and whether you're assigning tasks correctly.
ConclusionMastering the art of effective delegation will allow you to make the best use of your available resources. Continuing to delegate haphazardly will, on the other hand, send you down the path to project burnout.
A while ago, the most commonly known management mantra used to be ‘‘if you want the job done right, you have to do it yourself”. These days, successful project managers know that if you want the job done right, you have to learn how to delegate it properly.
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Think about your current delegation skills: are they really effective? Or do you need to let go of some ways of doing things? Do you have any other tips for creating high-performing project teams using constructive delegation? Let us know in the comments below.