How to delegate work on your team

Business owners and managers might find it difficult to let go of tasks that other team members can handle on their own, especially if those tasks fall outside an employee’s typical set of responsibilities. However, delegating work allows you to make the most of your team and force employees out of their comfort zones.

By definition, delegating is entrusting a task or responsibility to another person, usually one with less seniority than yourself. Delegating allows others to share in the responsibilities in order to create a more confident, competent, and productive team. It also shows that you trust your employees to complete important tasks.

Of course, you might run into the occasional “that’s not my job description” when asking an employee to do something outside his or her normal set of responsibilities. To avoid this, consider how to frame each new project in a way that avoids pushback.

Stretching assignments through delegation allows employees to learn new skills and grow in their positions. As such, delegating tasks is best for the benefit of everyone at work. The key is knowing how to delegate effectively without overwhelming your team.

It’s important to have a strong set of delegating skills when divvying up work assignments among your team. Whether you’ve never delegated responsibilities before or you continue to have problems letting go, here are a few tips for becoming a skilled delegator.

Know what tasks to delegate

For managers beginning to delegate responsibilities, it’s important to start small. Critical, time-sensitive projects can be overwhelming to an employee who’s never worked outside his comfort zone before. You need to provide plenty of time to allow for mistakes, corrections, and guidance.

Most of all, don’t delegate a responsibility that you should do yourself. As a leader in the office, neglecting your own responsibilities and putting them on your employees is the quickest way to lose your team’s respect. Take an honest look at your schedule and plan in advance which tasks should be delegated and which ones you should make time for yourself.

Appeal to your team’s interests

Since some employees might complain about a task outside their job description, you want to frame the assignment in a way that interests them. For instance, if an employee has expressed interest in a managerial promotion, discuss how beneficial the task will be for forming managerial skills and working toward that goal. If another employee is particularly creative, tell her that you need a creative mind on this project.

When you explain to each employee how the project can help them meet their personal goals and enhance their skill set, opening new opportunities, they’re more likely to accept the assignment with excitement and gratitude.

Choose the best people for the job

Knowing which employee on your team is best to handle a specific job is a major delegation skill, and it requires you to know your employees’ strengths and weaknesses. You want to choose people who can complete the job well, but who can also work comfortable without supervision. If an employee isn’t self-motivated and needs a lot of hand-holding through a new assignment, you don’t want to assign a task that requires him to work alone. If an employee isn’t comfortable using PowerPoint, don’t ask him to create an important presentation.

A better way to approach these scenarios while considering employee weaknesses is to delegate assignments to partners or teams. An employee who isn’t self-motivated or comfortable working alone can still learn valuable skills when paired with a partner to complete a task. Someone lacking PowerPoint skills can improve those skills by partnering with a co-worker familiar with the software. Use delegation as a way to utilize your employees’ strengths and improve those weaknesses.

Sell the benefits

Delegating an assignment outside an employee’s standard job description often requires a hard sales pitch. The benefits may be obvious to you, but you may need to spell them out to your team. When discussing the assignment, start with the benefits rather than the specific task itself. You may want to lead in with how the assignment will increase employee freedoms and ability to make decisions, or how it might provide opportunities to work with more influential people in the company.

Once you’ve sold the benefits of the assignment, you can then go over the mechanics of the project. Just be sure to stress the benefits throughout the pitch to keep employees interested.

Be clear

Clear communication is important in every aspect of business, and delegation is no exception. To ensure the assignments are completed correctly in a timely manner, note your expectations up front. Be clear about the project’s timeline, deliverables, and other information your team needs to achieve those goals. You may also want to put your expectations in writing, providing a guideline or template. Doing so reduces the chance that your team will come back with something that needs to be changed or redone.

Be supportive

Delegation isn’t about assigning tasks and going AWOL while your employees figure things out on their own. It’s crucial that you show your support every step of the way, and check in without being overbearing.

Make it clear from the start that you’re available to answer any questions or provide further guidance on the assignment. Ask about the employee’s existing workload and how you can help them incorporate this new assignment, even if it means being flexible with other deadlines.

Check in occasionally to make sure your team is on the right track. Since some employees might find it difficult to approach you with questions, ask if the team has any questions when you do check in. They’re more likely to do so when you’re showing your support rather than when you’re busy behind closed doors.

You can also utilize collaborative systems like Google Docs to make it easier for everyone to share information, get answers when needed, and to check in on the project. Periodic team meetings are also a good way to support employees and make sure everyone is on the same page.

Don’t micromanage

It’s easy to fall into a micromanaging role when delegating assignments, but this only makes you look obsessive and distrustful. When an employee has an issue with an aspect of the assignment, rather than taking it over to complete yourself, ask him how he plans to address the issue. If he doesn’t know, weigh in on the issue yourself to provide guidance. It may be hard to resist the urge to show or tell him exactly what you would do, but you want your employees to think for themselves and take ownership of their assignments.

Be patient

Delegating tasks takes more work off your own plate, but you will need to practice patience as your team figures out your expectations, asks questions, and makes mistakes. Be understanding when mistakes occur, especially if your team isn’t used to receiving extra tasks beyond their typical duties. You will ultimately learn how your team works best with one another and which employees are most effective at working on additional projects.

Give credit where credit is due

The worst managers take all the credit for projects others had a hand in. If you’re delegating tasks to employees to meet a deadline for your own supervisor, make it a point to give credit to those involved. Your higher-ups will see how effective you are at delegating and how much you value your team.

If you receive any accolades or rewards for the project, share them with the team and announce how you bragged about their contributions. Not only does this boost morale, but your employees will be more likely to accept future tasks knowing that you value their contributions.

Re-evaluate as needed

Learning to delegate effectively is a process, so you need to revisit your methods regularly. Get into the habit of re-evaluating your delegation plan every month or after every successful assignment is completed. How have past delegations benefited your employees? Where some people overwhelmed? Were there certain things you should have done yourself? Asking yourself these questions can help you figure out how to delegate more appropriately in the future.

Effective delegation isn’t something you learn overnight; it requires practice. In the long run, though, sharing responsibilities with your employees boosts the office’s sense of community and brings out the best in everyone on your team.

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