Delegate Problems and Outcomes, Not Tasks

I encourage managers to delegate work. When managers insert themselves into the middle of the work, these problems occur:

  • Managers slow the team down.
  • Managers prevent people from learning.
  • Managers don't do their management work.

That environment creates problems for everyone.

Then I read Elisabeth Hendrickson's Delegation is Overrated. I realized two things:

  • Some managers delegate tasks.
  • The delegators don't define the outcomes they need.

These two problems are indications of divide-and-conquer thinking.

I tried to think of reasons for separating the task from the outcomes. I couldn't imagine why we would want to. (I might not have a good enough imagination.)

If you are a leader—and especially if you are a manager—remove yourself from the middle of the work. You can't succeed either as a manager or a contributor if you try to do both technical work and management.

Yes, I know many first-line managers find themselves in this very quandary. You'll have to say No to some work.

Instead, spend time thinking about the problem the team needs to understand. And, spend enough time to define the outcomes you want. Then, delegate the problem and the outcomes to the team.

That's successful delegation. Not task delegation, but problems and outcomes.

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