Delegation for Dummies

Adem Turgut
5 min readJan 17, 2023

Why delegation matters

The idea that an effective manager is good at delegation is a bit cliché. However, I’d like to start with the key benefits of delegating work through my experiences.

When managing a team, my primary responsibility is to maximise their productivity. Not as individuals but in aggregate. That means organising and optimising work, which is only possible by delegating tasks.

Also, in my experience, staff will only get better if they are challenged. That means not only assigning them a task to do but also making them responsible for completing the task. Delegation helps my team grow while forming a relationship of trust and a shared understanding of outcomes.

Beyond my team and direct reports, delegation is key to my growth. It frees me up to challenge myself with new projects. I also learned important leadership skills through ongoing communication necessary for good delegation.

Photo by Julien L on Unsplash

I used to suck at delegation.

Delegation is hard, and I did find it challenging early on in my career. The symptoms of my poor delegation would typically be:

  • Doing somebody else’s job (i.e. a task that should have been delegated); or
  • Finishing a task I had previously delegated to someone or redoing their work.

Often, the trigger for the actions above was an assessment that the task was not meeting my expectations. Perhaps I felt the scope of what I asked for was not being delivered, or the quality was not good enough. It may have also been fired off due to a fear that a deadline would not be met.

The problem was that this pattern of behavior would reinforce the notion that delegation is too hard and not worth it. Over the years, I have seen this scenario play out, time and time again in teams:

  1. The manager does not properly delegate the task to their staff member.
  2. The staff member fails to meet the expectations of their manager.
  3. As a result of the failure, the manager concludes that either: the task is too hard to delegate; or the staff member is not capable of completing the task
  4. The manager decides that the “pragmatic” solution for future scenarios is to avoid delegation or complete the job the moment they “feel” the task is going sideways.

The distortion (from the pattern above) is that the manager fools themself into thinking that NOT delegating is the smart decision.

As a result, the relationship between the manager and their team member fails to evolve. The manager forms an opinion that their team member is incompetent. The team member believes that their manager does not like them or trust their work. Over time, this mutual resentment becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, stopping either party from doing their best work.

How I got better at delegating

Identifying the Why, What, Who, and When:

At a minimum, when delegating a task, you should aim to provide the following information:

  1. Why: Explain why the task is important. Identify the problem being solved, and the benefits being delivered and provide as much context as possible.
  2. What: Define the scope of the task. What does success look like? If the task is finished correctly, how will the staff member know? For larger tasks, are there smaller milestones? What is the most important 80% of deliverables for the task?
  3. Who: Identify all of the stakeholders. Ensure the person doing the work knows who to talk to get the answers they need to finish the task.
  4. When: Provide clear deadlines. For larger tasks, it can also help to provide milestones for partial delivery of the work to help ensure the task is on track.

This will provide a wealth of information to the staff member to help them complete the task in a way that you expect. This information will also help draw out potential obstacles you may not have considered. For example, your team member may remind you they will be on vacation and will therefore not be able to meet your deadline.

Delegate responsibility. Retain accountability.

Many people confuse responsibility with accountability and think it means the same thing. Responsibility relates to the desired outcome for the task (such as its successful completion). Responsibility can be shared across multiple people. Accountability relates to the consequences after something has or has not happened. Accountability should be assigned to one person (the manager delegating the task).

When delegating a task, remind yourself that your team member is taking responsibility while you are retaining accountability. This will set your mind on ensuring they have the necessary tools to meet the desired outcome. It will also improve communication (around the task), and provide safety for the staff member. Your goal is to allow them to focus on achieving a clear set of objectives (instead of worrying about the consequences of what may or may not happen).

Prioritization and Consistency

You need to establish the priority for the work you are delegating. If you don’t do this, how can your team member know where to apply their focus and energy? This can be quite challenging when dealing with managers that lean towards generating ideas instead of executing (those ideas). The “ideas” manager can overload their team with a new scheme or task on an almost daily basis, often forgetting what they asked their staff to do last week. This overwhelms the team and leads to:

  • A stop-and-start culture, where nothing gets finished.
  • New projects that kick off before the current project is closed off.
  • Team members start ignoring older (incomplete) tasks.

Establish a tool for tracking all of the tasks that have been delegated. Use this tool to prioritize the work. My favorite technique for prioritization is the Eisenhower Urgency Matrix. When delegating a new task, ensure you refer to the bigger picture of all outstanding tasks.

Establish a Feedback Loop

The only way to get better at delegating is to do it more often and collect and respond to feedback from your team. The steps should be:

  1. Delegate the task.
  2. Review the task (when completed) and provide feedback to your team.
  3. Ask your team for feedback on the quality of your delegation.

Assess the feedback (step 3) and make small changes to your delegation methods over time.

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Adem Turgut

CEO of SolveXia (Enterprise Process Automation), Writer and Efficiency Enthusiast