Learn practical techniques for understanding when and how to delegate to more effectively manage your team
Learning when and how to delegate tasks to others is essential to being a good manager. It’s not passing the buck, or shirking responsibility, instead you’re:
In this sprint, we’re going to learn:
When we talk about delegating, we’re not talking about assigning tasks that your team is collectively responsible for - that’s just team management. We’re talking about re-assigning work that you are personally responsible for.
So delegating well doesn’t begin with thinking about your team and what they could do.
It begins with a thorough understanding of your role, and what you should focus your time on. Once you do that, the tasks for delegation will become apparent.
Julie Zhuo puts it perfectly:
‘The rule of thumb for delegation goes like this: spend your time and energy on the intersection of 1) what’s most important to the organization and 2) what you’re uniquely able to do better than anyone else.’
To help you think about what those areas are, we like the mental exercise Camille Fournier suggests:
‘If you only had 45 hours of work you could do in a week, what would you focus on?’
Everything else is a candidate for delegation.
When some managers delegate, conveniently the work they feel they’re uniquely positioned to do is often the most interesting, with more tedious tasks delegated to others…
This is a delicate question. Because in some cases you will be best-positioned to do the more interesting work and delegating onerous tasks to free up your time is good management.
But if your patterns of delegation all start to look like this, you’re probably going wrong (or you need to hire a different team).
There should be opportunities for you to delegate some more complex parts of your role to more junior team members. These are the stretch opportunities which will offer your team the most scope for rapid development, and could be game-changers in how you arrange your work.
For example, preparing first-drafts of strategy briefs, running certain meetings, handing over key sales accounts, or managing certain marketing campaigns.
This may feel uncomfortable at first, but it’s essential - particularly in a growing team.
Michael Lopp calls this ‘delegating until it hurts’, Molly Graham calls this feeling ‘Giving Away your Legos’:
‘The emotions you feel when new people are coming in and taking over pieces of your job — it’s not that different from how a kid feels when they have to share their Legos. There’s a lot of natural anxiety and insecurity that the new person won’t build your Lego tower in the right way, or that they'll get to take all the fun or important Legos, or that if they take over the part of the Lego tower you were building, then there won’t be any Legos left for you. But at a scaling company, giving away responsibility — giving away the part of the Lego tower you started building — is the only way to move on to building bigger and better things.’
One final aspect to consider when thinking about what to delegate is how often you do the task.
If it’s not that important, and you do it infrequently, chances are it would take more time to train a team member to do it than it would to just do it yourself when the need arises.
We’ve identified five considerations when you’re delegating your work.
What you think is a great opportunity might not be so attractive to the delegate (at least initially). They may have some concerns about the scope of the work or whether they can handle it.
When opening up discussions about delegation, particularly on more complex tasks, rather than assuming they want to step up, ask first.
Useful phrases include: ‘Would you be open to…’, ‘I think you’d be the best person to…’ or ‘I know you’ve been wanting to do more of x, so…’
Just as when you’re setting expectations for your team, when you’re delegating, if you tell them how to do the work, you’ll be depriving them of the learning opportunity to figure out their own solution.
Try to delegate outcomes that you’d like to see, rather than specific tasks or methods to approach them.
As with setting expectations, be as clear as you can on the outcomes/deliverables you expect to see and when.
If you’re giving away one of your exciting legos for the benefit of someone’s development, by definition they won’t be quite ready for the opportunity. It follows that there’s a chance they will fail in some way.
You need to create an environment that lowers the risks:
When you delegate, you’re asking someone of different (often lesser) power, influence, and capabilities to take on your responsibilities.
You’ll need to give consideration as to whether because of that, they are likely to face hindrances that you wouldn’t have in completing the work, and think about anything you need to do to smooth the path for their success.
‘For delegation to work most effectively, you need to also delegate any power and authority that comes along with that work. In otherwise, when you delegate work, that person isn’t doing work for you; they’re doing work as you. It’s much less effective to assign some of your responsibility, without also assigning some of the decision-making authority that comes with that responsibility.’ Jacob Kaplan-Moss
As with any development opportunity, once the work has been completed, and the results are clear, it’s an opportunity to reflect on how it went and learn for future scenarios.
Take the time to meet with the delegate, discuss the task, and offer feedback. If they’ve been working with new colleagues as part of the task, try and get some feedback from them too which you can pass on.