How to Make Delegation Work for You

How to Make Delegation Work for You
By Rhianna Hobbs

Are the leaders in your organisation making the most of their valuable time and their people? Delegation is a key productivity, employee development and team cohesion tool, and there’s a good chance your people aren’t doing enough of it. So what can you do about it?

What is delegation?

Leaders are supposed to get things done through other people – that’s their job. Through delegation, leaders hand over responsibility (whilst of course remaining ultimately accountable) and entrust others to complete tasks so that they can focus on the more strategic things that only they can do. Delegation doesn’t mean hand-balling responsibility for those menial, annoying tasks we all hate – asking a subordinate to empty the dishwasher is not delegating. Effective delegation fosters development and stretches the capability of employees.

Delegation success factors

It’s all well and good for you to tell your senior personnel to delegate more. Perhaps you could run a skills training workshop on Effective Delegation? Make it an agenda item at the next Management Team meeting? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. There are a host of organisational conditions that are necessary for delegation to thrive. ‘Success factors’, if you will. Without these as a solid foundation, delegation efforts will be fruitless. 

Here are what I consider to be the key Delegation Success Factors:

Culture: Ultimately, it’s all about the culture of the organisation. Delegation will thrive and achieve maximal outcomes in organisations that encourage growth through learning and development, and in which employees feel safe in trying new things (and making mistakes). Trust is critical here – leaders must demonstrate trust in their people to complete the task, for delegation to actually work.  

Decision Making: There is no point delegating a task if the person completing it doesn’t have sufficient authority to make decisions about the task. Can a person really be expected to complete a task successfully if they have to cut through red tape at each step? This comes back to trust – the leader needs to be able to trust that the person is capable of making decisions about the task as required.

Empowerment: When people are given the autonomy and freedom to complete a task in their own way, delegation achieves the best outcomes. For this to happen, there needs to be a good match between the difficulty of the task and the skill and capability of the person completing the task. Leaders must also ensure that delegates have the required resources for completing the task available to them.

Team Work: By design, delegation requires more than one person, with those involved needing to work together towards a common goal. For this to be successful, the culture of the team must be one in which team members are open to delegation, and able and willing to work collaboratively.

Communication: As in most aspects of life and work, communication is key. Leaders must be clear about the task objective and expectation of performance so that the delegate understands what is expected of them and why they are doing it.


How can delegation go wrong?

Sometimes, despite having an open and development-focused culture, with clear communication and appropriate decision-making autonomy, delegation can still go wrong. There are a couple of very common ways this happens:

Mismatch between task and capability: Key to successful delegation is a good match between the difficulty of the task and the capability of the person completing the task. If the task is beyond the delegate’s capability, they will likely feel overwhelmed and will be unable to complete the task successfully. If it’s too easy, the person will become disengaged and feel that they have been hand-balled a menial task simply because the leader didn’t want to do it. Very often, delegation falls in a heap because leaders don’t take the time to carefully select the appropriate person for the task. Part of the skill of delegation is the ability of the leader to match a task with the capability of an employee, such that it will stretch their capability without being overwhelming.

The need to be in control: The success of delegation essentially comes down to a leader being able to let go of control. Once a task or piece of work has been delegated, the leader must take a step back and allow the delegate to do the work. However some leaders find this uncomfortable, and have a tendency to over-supervise and shape the work into exactly what they would have produced if they had done the task themselves. They fail to find the balance between monitoring progress and micro-managing. This negates the time spent delegating the task in the first place, and usually leads to employees feeling disengaged and disempowered.  

What’s happening in your organisation?

We know that the most productive and efficient organisations encourage delegation in order to get more done and develop their people, so why aren’t more leaders doing it? If you were to ask the leaders in your organisation if they delegate effectively, you would most likely come across some of these common responses...

  • “I don’t have enough time”
  • “My team members don’t have the skills required”
  • “They’re just as busy as me”
  • “I can’t trust them to do as good a job”

If you are observing a lack of delegation in your organisation, what can you do about it?

Your starting point in encouraging your leaders to delegate should be to look at the culture of your organisation. Do the people in your organisation genuinely believe in growth and development, or are they of the view that people are simply born with specific skill sets? Think about whether the culture of your organisation fosters trust – do people feel that they can try new things without fear of making mistakes? And do your leaders feel that they can trust their people to complete tasks to the best of their ability? Once you have a culture that not only accepts but encourages delegation, you can focus on ensuring your leaders are equipped with the skills necessary for effective delegation. For example, do your leaders possess strong communication skills? Are they able to gauge the capability of their people such that they can select the appropriate person for the task?

You’re probably already aware that your organisation isn’t making the most of delegation as a key productivity, employee development and team cohesion tool. However, by focusing on the culture of your organisation, and then working to improve your leaders’ delegation skills, you will create an environment in which delegation can thrive and your leaders can make the most of their valuable time and their people. 


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Guest Wednesday, 26 June 2019