What is delegation?
Delegation is the assignment of a task, area or work, project or level of authority to another person. Delegating work to others can free you to concentrate on work that only you can do.
This is an important skill for a manager as delegation helps the whole team to develop new skills and knowledge and can enhance performance.
Some common fears about delegating
Fear: Loss of control over a task or the way it is undertaken.
Reality: That will be so, but it could be done differently and perhaps even better by someone who is giving it more attention and bringing a fresh eye.
Fear: 'I can do it in the time it takes for me to explain it'.
Reality: That will be the case, but hopefully only for the first time.
Fear: Staff will resent being 'dumped on' with more work when they already have enough to do.
Reality: Delegation provides opportunities for the development of skills and new knowledge in your team.
See the MindTools site for other reasons why people don’t delegate.
Assess your delegation skills
Take the test on MindTools to assess your current delegation skills.
Steps for delegating a task or assignment
- Choose the right person to delegate the task to. Remember that everyone has different skills, knowledge and experience. Can they do the task? Will they do the task to the required standard?
- Set up a face-to-face meeting with the person you wish to delegate the task to. You could also confirm what was agreed in writing after the meeting
- Clearly describe the task:
- define the purpose of the task
- identify who else will be involved
- confirm deadlines
- provide applicable information
- confirm whether the delegation of the task is permanent or just this once
- Establish standards of performance
- Define the resources and support that will be available
- Agree on any support (or additional training) that will be offered
- Define the level of authority that is being delegated. Depending on the competency and experience of the person undertaking the delegated task, confirm the level of authority being delegated (that is what decisions can be made without reference to you).
- Agree what feedback you want in terms of progress – when and how.
Source: Adapted from 'Delegating Work' Harvard Business Press (2008)
Some tips on delegation
- Choose the right person to delegate to. Select the best person for the task based on their experience, knowledge and skills. Remember that more junior staff will need more support than more experienced colleagues.
- Remember not to let people give you back the problem! Staff have to come up with solutions to the issue. You could help by asking prompt questions such as:
“What have you tried?”
“When did the problem start?”
“What were you doing when it started?”
- Remember that your role is not to take on the work of the less experienced but to coach them into performing better and developing their own skill and knowledge.
Levels of delegation
Business Balls gives a useful list of the levels of delegation freedom where Level 1 is the lowest level of delegated freedom (basically none) and Level 10 is the highest level.
Business Balls has links to other models of delegation:
- the Tannenbaum and Schmidt Continuum model: extra guidance on delegating freedom to, and developing a team.
- Tuckman’s 'Forming, Storming, Norming Performing' model: useful when delegating to teams and individuals within teams.