Learning to Delegate is Not Trivial

I taught a management tutorial at the Better Software conference this week. One of the points I discussed (and asked participants to discuss) was delegation. The managers in my tutorial said they ran into these problems when trying to delegate:

  • Being too concerned with how the delegatee did the work, not the results.
  • Wanting people new to type of task to perform the task at the same speed that an experienced person would.
  • Not wanting to delegate technical work (“because I like it”).
  • Not taking the time to think about what to delegate.

Being a great manager takes time. Managers need time for one-on-one meetings, for group problem solving meetings, for dealing with issues around the organization (in meetings, email, and vmail). If you manage people, start thinking about how you'll delegate the work.

There are plenty of wrong ways to delegate. See How to destroy commitment and motivation for what happens if you delegate badly. I had some tips for how to delegate in Delegating Successfully.

Delegation, as all other management skills, takes practice. It's worth thinking about how to delegate, practicing with something small, and continuing to practice. That way you can be a better delegator and your staff can be better delegatees.

4 thoughts on “Learning to Delegate is Not Trivial”

  1. All four points are so true, and I’ve experienced them all by myself and still do. Delegation is certainly one of the hardest parts of management. But I’d add a point here:
    Not knowing who’s the best person to delegate to. You gotta know your team’s skills to delegate successfully. This does not mean that you delegate all to the person who has the best knowledge in the according area, since you wanna spread it out a little and give other team members a chance to grow with their responsibilities. That’s the joy and beauty of delegation, giving people opportunities which, in my experience, they’re often glad to take and grow with.
    Cheers, Mathias

  2. For a lot of people, including myself, the chief problem with delegation may be the perceived loss of control involved. For “control freaks” and quality-focused people, giving up control over the results to another person can be a terrifying prospect. I think this happens especially to highly capable technical staff who are promoted to positions of responsibility; it can be difficult to transition from being responsible for one’s own results to being responsible for the results of others.
    Another delegation challenge I’ve run into is the perception (sometimes correct, probably sometimes not) that delegating the task will actually take *more* of my time or energy than just doing it myself. Giving in to the urge to hoarde tasks may help in the short term, but is destructive in the long term.

  3. My two cents: I often worry that when I delegate, I’m passing the buden of a task to someone who is already too busy. I find that I have a difficult time trusting people to tell me when they can’t handle the delegated task, because so often they don’t tell me.

  4. Pingback: Johanna Rothman : Five Tips for Tactical Management | Project Management Buzz

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