Why isn’t your delegating working?

Frustration was written all over Mike’s (name has been changed) face as he arrived at our session. ‘How are you?’ I asked, tentatively.

‘Annoyed with myself,’ he answered, ‘although I don’t know why I didn’t expect this to happen.’ He settled into his seat before continuing. ‘It seems like every single time I delegate a task, I end up having to take it back and it takes me even longer to complete than it would have done if I’d just done the whole thing myself.’

‘Every time?’ I queried. ‘Is this when you delegate a task to one particular person or to anyone?’

‘Pretty much every time and pretty much everyone. I guess that means that the common denominator is me – it must be something I do. Can you help me unpick what’s going on?’

We spent Mike’s session looking for common themes in why Mike’s delegation wasn’t working effectively. Here’s what we identified.

The team members to whom Mike was delegating:

  1. Didn’t realise the importance of the task
  2. Didn’t have a clear understanding of what needed to be done
  3. Underestimated the impact of the task on current workload
  4. Didn’t have the right experience or skills to complete the task
  5. Had every intention of fulfilling the task but had other people pulling them in different directions
  6. Were uncomfortable coming back to Mike when the task wasn’t going well.

Having found some pointers as to what could be going wrong, we looked at how Mike could address each of the points in order to improve his delegation in future.

From now on, Mike has committed to:

  1. Give a background story to the task so that the other party understands how it fits in to the bigger picture and why it’s important;
  2. Give a clear brief on the task: not just what needs to be done, but by when and in what manner (eg bullet point update or full report);
  3. Ensure that he reviews the other party’s current workload with them and establishes priorities before handing over a new task;
  4. Choose the right person for the task, not just the person who seems to have time to do it. If he intends the task to be an opportunity for his team member to learn some new skills or gain experience, he needs to take this into account by:
    1. Allowing time in his own schedule to be involved in the task alongside them
    2. Identifying, and gaining the agreement of, another person who can support Mike’s team member
    3. Allowing extra time for the task to be completed;
  5. Inform any other key stakeholders of the delegated task and its importance in order to ‘ring fence’ his team member from other extra work;
  6. Ensures that his team member feels that they are able to – and have a responsibility to – let him know if things aren’t going well so that they can review and re-work if necessary. Mike also plans to make it clear what the constraints of a task are: eg, if the team member sees an action that needs to be taken in order to make the task happen, can they initiate it or do they need to make a recommendation to Mike and wait for him to give approval before they proceed?

Today’s pebble for you to consider: how are your delegation skills? Would it help to adopt some of Mike’s ideas or do you have some other ideas you could implement?

What do you think?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’re ready to transform your work and life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.





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