6 Steps to Delegate Tasks Effectively

Do you have trouble delegating tasks to people on your team? You shouldn’t. The following is a real-life example of what happens when someone can’t let go of tasks and delegate. I share a few practical reasons why people find it hard, and what you can do to have the confidence you need to delegate. Soon, you will be delegating tasks every chance you get!

“Forget it, I’ll just do it myself…” said Lisa, the technical director of the company where I worked.

Her reaction was always the same. Every time I asked Lisa for clarification about how she wanted something done, she would unpleasantly cut the conversation short and leave me with that response.

I wasn’t an idiot. I knew what I was doing, but her directions were confusing at best, and more often than not, downright wrong. It was always important that I double-check with her before moving forward and potentially wasting a lot of time.

It’s not an exaggeration to describe her reaction as sounding guttural. In every sense, she had an extremely meaningful way of communicating her disgust. The guttural sound would be followed with a statement of how long she had been doing what she had been doing. She had even co-authored a chapter in a book about what we were working on, and believe me, we heard about that ALL the time. There might be another insufferable minute of hearing more about the brilliant expert she was before she would end with “Forget it. I’ll just do it myself.”

It wasn’t just me that she would do that too. It was everyone who worked for her. She had the owners of the company duped into thinking she had such specialized knowledge that they would never get rid of her. So, she ended up with a plate of overflowing tasks and activities that only she could allegedly perform.

She tried to get things done, sort of. She would waste time all day long and then wait until about 4 PM to get things cranked up. Everyone else began leaving around 5 or 6 and she would sit there with puppy dog eyes moaning about the long night ahead of her with all of the things she had to do for the company. We would promptly reply, “See you tomorrow, Lisa.”

The next morning she was still there, hair disheveled, eyes bloodshot, Red Bull cans are strewn across her desk. What had she gotten done that night? Practically nothing, perpetually distracted by the TV she kept on in her office, side projects and who knows what else!

This happened week after week and month after month (don’t worry, her demise and ouster from the company is the topic of a future article…). What was her biggest problem? She didn’t know how to delegate.

Steps to Delegate Tasks Effectively

Steps to Delegate Tasks Effectively

Why People Have a Hard Time Delegating

There are a number of reasons why people have a hard time delegating tasks to others:

  • They are Control Freaks – This explains Lisa’s situation. She believed that if she gave someone else just the slightest amount of responsibility or authority it would undermine her position. She felt as if everyone around her was of sub-par intelligence and wouldn’t be able to complete tasks at her level of expertise. This resulted in her not letting go of anything, ever.
  • They Don’t Know How to Delegate – They may have attempted to delegate in the past and weren’t pleased with the results. The people they delegated to did what they were told, but it wasn’t what needed to be done. Directions, timelines, quality levels, or other criteria were lost in the translation.
  • They are Unsure of Themselves – Some people may not fully understand the task at hand themselves and are reluctant to pass it on to other people. This would mean they would need to explain in great detail what needs to be done, and they just don’t have that level of comfort.

Why It’s Critical for a Project Manager to Delegate

You need to rid yourself of any hesitation relative to delegating tasks if you are a project manager. Delegation is a core part of what you do, and you should do it well. Technically, what you own or are responsible for on each project is the project plan, including communications, risk, expense, and procurement plans. You are not responsible for doing the actual work. As a matter of fact, that flies in the face of staying off of the critical path. The only way to accomplish this is through delegation.

6 Steps to Delegate Tasks Effectively

Below are six steps you (and Lisa – never mind, it’s too late) can follow to delegate tasks effectively:

#1. Be Precise – You need to be extremely precise, thorough, and comprehensive about communicating what you are asking somebody else to do. You need to remove any ambiguity or questions in your mind before you bring someone else into the picture. Passing along ambiguity to someone else is like a copy of a copy of a copy. Someone will take the ambiguity you passed along to them, make it just a little bit fuzzier, and then pass that on to the next person. The directions you gave could be almost unrecognizable by the time you see them implemented in the final project.

#2. Choose the Right Person – You need to make sure you are matching the task with the right person. Consider the person’s skill level and knowledge relative to the task. Will they be able to accomplish the work with minimal instruction from you or will they need additional hand-holding? It’s not a problem to delegate to a newer person, just be aware of the fact that they may take a bit longer to get something done. They may have a false start or two that a more experienced person would not have.

#3. Have a Clear Hand-off – Once you’ve established the task and chosen the person, you need to make sure there is an event that marks the hand-off. The best way to do this is with a face-to-face meeting if possible. Explain what you need to have accomplished. Make sure your project team member has a grasp of all the details necessary to complete the task. Include due dates, milestones, resources that are available, who can assist and other relevant information about the activity. It’s also good practice to put what you discussed at this hand-off meeting in writing.

#4. Make Yourself Available – The biggest service you can provide after delegating is to make yourself available. Make sure they know that if they have ANY questions about what they are doing they can come and ask you anytime. You’ll be glad to answer them and would prefer they come to you sooner rather than later, in case you need to clarify any misunderstandings that may have occurred during the hand-off.

#5. Follow Up – You’ll want to follow up even if the person doesn’t come to you with any questions, and not in the spirit of “I don’t trust you,” but as if to say, “Is there anything you need from me to finish this task?” They may not need a thing from you and that’s great.  It just lets them know you are concerned about their success. Plus, it gives you a reality check as to how well they understood your directions.

#6. Resolve Issues Quickly – If the task you delegated is not on the right track, get involved as early as you see it, and often. Point out where the confusion may be coming from and jump in to help fix the issue quickly. Helping resolve the issue quickly may just be a matter of pointing them in the right direction, or letting them know what they need to do next. Regardless, you are preventing them from spinning their wheels unnecessarily and setting their selves up for disappointment later.

Knowing how to delegate effectively would have helped Lisa and her staff. It may be too late for her, but it’s not too late for you. Learn to let go. Implement these six steps today, and you will experience what smoother projects and a happier staff are like.

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