Delegate or Drown: How Delegation Empowers Your Team and Strengthens Your Business

Your business depends on your ability to delegate tasks and authority.


We all know what delegation is, but let’s get this out of the way just as a refresher. Delegation involves managers deciding which work they should do themselves and which work should be entrusted to others.

Delegation shifts the authority to make decisions and the responsibility for results from you to one of your employees, freelancers, contractors, or vendors. The ability to delegate is critical and can be a challenging skill to develop for some.

So, ready to get better at delegation? Let’s get started.

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    Why People Don’t Like to Delegate Tasks

    People tend to shy away from delegating for 2 main reasons:

    1. Ugh, it’ll take longer for someone else to do. Yes, you will need to pass along to someone else everything you know about a project: the background, strategy, goals, etc. You may find yourself thinking, I know this inside and out. It will take me longer to brief someone in than to just do it myself.

    The question is, would it be a good use of your time to do it, or is your time better spent elsewhere?

    get out of the weeds

    2. I’m not used to working this way. Putting trust in a team member to execute something that you’ve done yourself in the past can be a challenge, especially if it’s an important task.

    The particulars of why it’s a challenge are unique to you. You might be a bit of a perfectionist (understandably—it’s your business!) and reluctant to lose your grip on the details. You might love some of those tasks you know you should pass on to other people. Maybe it’s a logistics issue and you don’t know where to start to untangle yourself from the day-to-day.

    It’s helpful to understand why delegation has been a roadblock so you can deal with what’s standing in your way. But first, here are some reasons delegation is key for your whole business—not just you.

    How Delegation Benefits Your Team Members

    Delegation is an essential skill to develop as a people manager. It doesn’t only benefit you—it benefits your team members, too. Delegation helps develop communication skills, opens up feedback loops, builds trust, and presents training opportunities. Delegation for the win!

    Delegation Creates Learning Opportunities

    You’re a good manager, right? That means you know providing opportunities for your employees to grow and develop is important.

    If the person you’ve assigned to a project needs to stretch out of their comfort zone to get it done then learning opportunities should be plentiful. Depending on the individual, you might also want to set up milestone check-ins to provide support and ensure a learning opportunity isn’t overshadowed by frustration.

    If a more senior and experienced person with well-developed soft skills is being given a task, their learning opportunities may manifest in different ways, such as managing senior leader stakeholders.

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    The Delegation Process Builds Trust

    Part of developing your delegation skills is building trust with your employees and helping them to trust you as well. A project’s success isn’t dependent on doing it your way. At some point, you have to put faith in the skills of your employees, even very junior ones.

    Remember, people work in different ways and effective delegation involves delegating authority—not just tasks—to an employee.

    People carry around all different levels of self-confidence, so depending on who you delegate authority to they may or may not feel confident from the beginning. Building trust also helps build confidence.

    How to Delegate Effectively to Your Team

    Instructing your team members in a way that makes them feel empowered doesn’t mean a complete transfer of responsibility.

    For example, if you ask an employee to write you a blog article like this one, you can still review the outline prior to it being written, and then provide edits upon completion. That way, you’ve accomplished a number of things. You’ve provided guidance on the process and feedback on the output, all while empowering your employee to complete the bulk of the work. You’ve also freed up a bunch of time for yourself.

    Here are some important points to keep in mind as you start to delegate more tasks and authority to your team members.

    Communicate Clearly

    As a manager, it’s important to communicate clearly and honestly with your employees when delegating. Explain why you’re assigning them to a task, what the task is in detail, what the expectations are, and what the goals are. Giving proper direction and discussing the expected outcome puts both you and your employee on the same page.

    It’s also essential to practice active listening and ensure all concerns and opinions are heard. Clear communication is the most effective way to avoid frustration and a breakdown of trust and process. Ensuring everyone is on the same page allows for the same starting point if things go poorly and if they go well.

    Provide Resources

    Set your employees up for success by understanding their level of ability and giving them the resources they need. Before delegating responsibility, good leaders and managers evaluate the tasks to be delegated and the skills required to do them.

    An assignment that lets someone stretch and develops their skills is a growth opportunity. An assignment that requires skills that someone doesn’t have can set them up for failure and frustration.

    Good managers and leaders know how to effectively train employees in new tasks or skills. If assignments require specific insight and expertise, it’s up to you to provide training before you delegate. This will instill even more confidence in whoever is taking responsibility for the task.

    Agree on Expectations and Responsibilities

    A great model to use when delegation work is the MOCHA model. It’s a great way to articulate responsibilities and who should play what role throughout the work you’ve delegated.

    Manager: This is you. The Manager assigns responsibility and holds the Owner accountable. Makes suggestions, asks hard questions, reviews progress, serves as a resource, and intervenes if the work is off-track.

    Owner: This is your delegate. They take responsibility for the success or failure of the project. They ensure all tasks get done (directly or with Helpers) and those responsibilities for completing tasks are shared appropriately. There should only be one owner.

    Consulted: A third team member who can give the Owner input on a project.

    Helper: A fourth team member (or could be several people) who assists with a task or does some of the work, but doesn’t absorb any overall responsibility.

    Approver: This is the person who signs off on decisions before they’re final. This might be the Manager (you) or someone else in authority such as a director, external partner, or board chair.

    Regardless of the process, assigning responsibilities and ensuring you and your delegate are aligned on the outcome of the project is essential to the success of the project, building trust, and instilling confidence in your employee

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    Don’t Delegate Authority and Disappear

    Good leaders and managers don’t simply set expectations, hand something off, and then assume it’s just going to happen.

    Make yourself available, check-in from time to time, and be clear from the start that you’re around to help. Don’t wait until it’s too late and the train has run off the rails.

    One of the most common mistakes when delegating is assuming that after providing your employee with the resources you think they’ll need and handing something off, they now know everything you know and can now put that into action.

    Sure, they might have all the pieces, but your experience is what helps you put them together so easily. Your employee might find connecting the dots more challenging at first.

    Be sure to also build in a project debrief afterward. Whether it’s a brief conversation or a detailed breakdown, it’s important to have some sort of project follow-up.

    A delegated task should come with clear expectations. As a manager, you can also provide guidance and feedback at appropriate intervals along the way. But don’t confuse feedback with micromanagement.

    Stand Aside Pride, It’s Time to Delegate

    Listen, as long as there are only 24 hours in a day there’s only so much you can accomplish. Delegation isn’t a sign that you’re not a hard worker or lazy. It’s a sign that your business is growing and it’s time to either bring on new talent or leverage and develop the talent you already have on your team.

    If you want your company to keep growing you need to develop delegation skills. And, when you acknowledge your employees and their talents with bigger and more important projects they’ll feel more valued.

    So, get out of your own way and start delegating.

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    Daniel Reiter

    Written by Daniel Reiter, Editor-in-Chief, FreshBooks

    Posted on July 7, 2021