Maddy Osman
I write about productivity, the future of work, and collaboration at the Planio Blog.
June 09, 2017 · 5 min read

How to Delegate Like a Pro

Delegate like a Pro

It might surprise you to hear that you don’t have to do everything. And if you have employees or dedicated team members, you really shouldn’t do everything. While there are some things that you feel particularly responsible for regarding the final output, there may be smaller pieces that you can delegate to the people around you.

But though delegation can free up time and energy for other projects, it is not without it’s own unique set of challenges and proper etiquette to follow. With that in mind, here are some considerations for how to delegate within a team, as the boss to a group of employees, and proper etiquette for how to proceed in either case.

How to Delegate: Within A Team

Delegating within a team is in many ways considerably different than delegating to employees. Though there may be a designated team leader, the assumption is that every person is on the same level as everyone else within the team. As such, delegation must be permission-based and agreed upon - not necessarily a given.

Delegation within a team must be permission-based and agreed upon.

Assign Specific Roles Determine who’s in charge of which tasks, and who they’ll report progress to. Try to find the ideal fit between the tasks and the expertise/interests of the people in the team. If you don’t know what people would prefer to spend their time on - just ask! Matching expertise or interest to specific roles can result in a better final output.

Pick a Team Leader

Pick a Leader

Similar to assigning specific roles, you should also make sure to designate a team leader. This leader should be empowered to check in with other members from the purpose of getting things done. It’s not an excuse to take charge or to have an easier job, but rather, to help provide a basic structure for the group and a point person for questions.

Find a Balance with Their Schedule in Mind In a team setting, it doesn’t make sense for one person to be doing the bulk of the work if there are other people to assist. Aim to find a balance so that no teammate feels like they’re shouldering an undue burden. When assigning tasks, make sure to be fair and ask for a person’s availability. If you address a person’s availability upfront, then that person can’t complain about the amount of work you assign, and corresponding due dates. If they don’t deliver, that’s now 100% on them.

If you address a person’s availability upfront, then they won’t complain about the due date.

How to Delegate: As a Boss

Delegating work as the boss is more or less an expectation of being employed. But although employees are expecting you to delegate work their way, there are right and wrong ways (and inefficient/efficient ways) to go about the process of delegation.

Start with Small Tasks If you’re practicing the fine art of delegation for the first time (like with a new employee), it’s a good idea to start small. This will help you to identify and fix any potential communication issues, while also helping your employee to build confidence in their ability to deliver a completed project that’s up to your standards. Once you’ve established a good system, you can work up to delegating larger tasks and more complete projects.

Match the Level of Responsibility with the Employee’s Level of Authority An intern probably shouldn’t be delegated a task that requires handling sensitive company information, just like a director-level employee shouldn’t be asked to take lunch orders or spend their time on basic data entry. No one is more important than anyone else, but it’s most efficient to delegate tasks with respect to a person’s level/area of expertise within the company. It’s also important to learn how to delegate with respect to a person’s access to specific programs or information they’ll need to complete a task.

Create a Project Management System At least at the beginning of delegating tasks to an employee, make sure to create a project management system to track all outstanding assignments. Additionally, designating priorities can be helpful to make it easy for employees to understand how new items might take precedence amidst existing deadlines. From there, employees can feel empowered to move around due dates as necessary to accommodate new priorities. Furthermore, having some level of accountability ensures that the task will actually get done. If a person realizes that you’re never going to follow up and assumes that they’re being assigned busy work, they may eventually stop doing tasks, ignoring your requests. If you’re not very good with follow ups, automate the task with a tool like Boomerang that can allow you to set automatic reminders.

If a person realizes that you’re not going to follow up, they may eventually ignore your requests.

Give Basic Guidance When you start delegating tasks to a new employee, you’ll want to err on the side of over communicating what you’re looking for in the final project. This might include sharing an example that represents that ideal final output, and/or vetted sources that provide information to help your employee complete the project. As you work together on a more regular basis, this level of communication won’t be necessary, but it certainly helps to set a good precedent for both parties in the beginning.

Besides offering basic guidance, make sure to also set expectations. For example, if you’re looking for a specific type of document, be sure to answer the following questions for the employee you’re delegating the task to:

The more detail you can give, the less of a need for revisions. With less revisions, you’re freeing up both peoples’ time and energy for other important activities. It’s best to get these expectations in writing (email works, or use a tool like Planio to keep track of issues where they’re most relevant), so that both parties have something to refer back to throughout the length of the project.

How to Delegate: General Rules

Decide Which Tasks to Delegate There are some things that you won’t feel comfortable getting behind unless you’ve taken complete ownership of them. But for every big task, there are many smaller tasks that go into it, such as:

Why not delegate some of these smaller tasks?

Check for Agreement

Check for Agreement

Does the person you’re delegating work to understand what they need to do? Are they empowered to ask questions if need be? If you act unapproachable, the person you’re trying to delegate tasks to may try to act without full knowledge and understanding, and their end result may delay the project’s actual completion.

Set Project Deadlines If the delegated project has any level of complexity and will take more than a day or two to complete, it’s a good idea to set multiple project deadlines--not just the final due date. This is not an excuse to micromanage (as micromanaging can impede progress), but an opportunity to check in and see if the person you’ve delegated to needs any assistance or if they’re dealing with any challenges that might get in the way of the proposed due date.

If there’s a client (or a company higher up) a certain project is eventually due to, aim to get the project done well ahead of that due date, in case you hit any any snags through the process of delegation. Anticipating potential problems, internal/team due dates should definitely be earlier than final due dates.

Internal/team due dates should definitely be earlier than final due dates.

Motivate Your Team

Motivate your Team

Motivation should address more than just making one person’s life a bit easier. When sharing the details of a project to a team member or employee, make sure to answer the following questions:

Be proactive about answering these questions for your team members so they’re motivated to do their best job, and not just get the project done.

Give Feedback Don’t be afraid to ask for revisions, but make sure to spend time giving some guidance if the project isn’t turning out how you initially intended. And when the project is finally done, make sure to give credit where credit is due. Even if you helped make something happen, it’s imperative to make your teammates feel good about the work they’ve done.

After the project is over, feel free to give another round of feedback, specifically addressing what went well and what could go better from next time. A good employee or teammate should be willing to always push for a better final output.

How to Delegate

The art of delegation is hardly cut and dry. There are subtle nuances that come into play in different situations, like working in a group or assigning work to an employee. Learning how to delegate means recognizing how to be effective in either situation.

Do you have any additional insight on how to delegate? Tweet at @Planio with your insights, and we’ll share our favorites!