Updated: Feb 24
A few years back, my wife asked me to stain our large backyard deck. It’s an enormous task, needing no less than 8 hours to complete, and definitely not the way I had wanted to spend my Saturday. But she was right: the work needed to be done. About two hours into my undertaking, my wife came outside to ask me to run to the grocery store. I pointed out that I was busy staining the deck and not able to go, to which she replied, “Staining the deck is easy—you can finish once you’re back.” From her point of view, I realized that staining the deck looked simple because she did not have to do the work itself.
I often think of this exchange with my wife when training new leaders on the importance of delegation. Oftentimes, we underestimate the amount of effort an employee puts into a task because we are not doing the labor. Remember: the only thing separating you from your team is a job title. But with some attention, intention, and education, you can delegate effectively.
The first step to effective delegation is to agree on expectations and responsibilities. We often do this without thinking, but paying a little more attention goes a long way. Make sure that you and the employee you’re delegating have the same picture of what success means. Be clear and concise about roles in completing the task: who is responsible for what? Build a safety net should your employee find themselves needing some guidance. Most importantly, make sure that the deadline is expressed clearly and enforced.
Stay involved with your employees throughout their projects. Allow them the room and freedom to complete the work, but stay available to help with any concerns or unexpected roadblocks. To avoid the dreaded mantle of the micromanager, we often find ourselves inclined to delegate a task and disappear entirely. You can help your team succeed without staying immediately involved by managing with intention.
One way you can stay involved in a delegated task is to create and foster learning opportunities. When the delegated project has is complete, meet with your team and check in: What worked? What could have functioned more successfully? Why did these things happen? Establish that this debriefing will occur from the get-go of the assignment. It’s important that your team is both celebrated for their successes and held accountable for lackluster performances and that your expectations are clear from the start.
Not all tasks will be as straightforward as staining a deck. Still, the basic principles of effectively delegating a task remain the same. You want to make sure that everyone is on the same page regarding methods, outcomes, and expectations. Stay involved but allow your employees the freedom to succeed on their own terms. When the delegated project has finished, call a meeting to debrief on how things went. Most importantly, don’t assume that the deck your employees are working on is easy: keep communication open, and your team will soon rise to the occasion.