Delegation skills are a core requirement for all managers, yet many team leaders still find it challenging to assign tasks to their team members effectively. Some aim for perfection and think they’re the only ones who can do the job, while others are swamped with work and are too busy to delegate.
This path can lead to overwhelming tasks and eventual burnout. Poor delegation also results in low team morale, as members may feel undervalued and untrusted. It’s painful to see crucial tasks handled by unqualified individuals or tasks piling up behind one overloaded person.
Delegating poorly is just as harmful as not delegating
Holding onto all tasks is a recipe for disaster, but practicing ineffective or harmful delegation is even worse. When you don’t give clear instructions or consider your team’s skills and availability, you’re moving farther away from success.
And if you can’t resist micromanaging tasks after delegating, you’ve successfully brewed an actually toxic work environment.
Reasons why you may be bad at delegating tasks
1. It’s actually really hard to explain tasks to others
Turning thoughts into clear communication is really hard. Having to explain things to someone else requires a lot of thought as you can’t predict their background knowledge. It’s common to assume they know as much as you do. When they don’t, they will start guessing and are likely to misinterpret your message.
While you don’t need to start your task descriptions from the beginning of time, a bit of extra effort can reduce the risk of misunderstanding. Have your team members ask questions and summarize what they’ve understood. You can also have them repeat back the task in their own words.
2. There is never enough time to plan and organize
If you’re an expert in the subject matter, it’s very easy to assume that a task is straightforward and doesn’t require detailed planning, only to realize later that team members are confused and need additional instructions.
The fact that you’re able to perform this kind of tasks easily yourself, doesn’t mean that you’re able to explain the task on the fly. This kind of overconfidence can easily make you underestimate the value of preparation when delegating tasks to someone else.
In a fast-paced work environment, there is often pressure to get things delegated quickly. But it’s important to understand that poorly delegated tasks will need to be reworked, wasting additional time and other resources. In the worst scenario, poorly delegated tasks can steer the team towards destructive activities that are tough to fix down the road.
Tailor the time you spend explaining the details to match the task’s significance and scope. Start by giving a little bit of context and explaining the “why” behind the task. Understanding the purpose can really enhance clarity.
3. It’s scary to hand over important work assignments
It’s natural to fret about your team’s performance when you’re accountable for the final outcome. If a delegated tasks goes wrong, you’re the one responsible for the aftermath.
It’s also very common to feel insecure about handing out important responsibilities. What if your team excels, and all you seem to do is delegate? Could management think you’re expendable or question your practical contributions?
Trust is crucial in overcoming the fear of delegation. Allow team members to use their judgment and problem-solving skills to complete the task, without hovering over every detail.
Embrace imperfections as a vital leadership skill. Not every task will mirror your approach, and that’s alright. Allow your team to have their methods. Mistakes may occur, but they’re stepping stones to enhancing your team’s skills and collaboration abilities.
If delegation makes you uneasy, begin with smaller tasks and work your way up to bigger responsibilities.
How to delegate tasks to team members
Depending on your team structure and goals, there are various strategies you can employ to ensure tasks are distributed efficiently. Here’s three of the most common ways to get work tasks delegated to your team members.
1. Manual assignment by the manager
In small teams where managers are closely familiar with the team members, it’s common to manually delegate tasks. This approach allows for a highly customized allocation of work but requires effective communication and management skills.
Understanding your team’s strengths is key here. Identify which team members excel in certain task categories, and what are their personal preferences. Based on this information you can assign incoming tasks to the most appropriate performer.
The hard part here is to guarantee a balanced workload. There is a high risk of overloading your top performers while depriving others of opportunities to showcase their skills with more challenging tasks.
To balance task assignments among your team, ou could use task rotation:
- Divide tasks into categories by complexity or skill level.
- Assign team members to different categories over time.
- Rotate tasks so everyone gets a chance at challenging work.
- Monitor performance and adjust rotations as needed.
- Use feedback to fine-tune the rotation strategy.
2. Assign with workforce automation software
Automation software can distribute tasks based on skills and availability. Here team managers need to define the criteria for task allocation (e.g., skills, workload, deadlines), and supervise the software to adapt to changing needs.
While automatic processes are convenient to set and forget, you need to remember that the algorithm is assigning work to actual people. To keep them from isolation, ensure you’re still in constant communication with the team and the software is simply facilitating your collaboration by doing the first-tier task allocation.
A team manager should always remain available as an actual human being for troubleshooting and problem solving. You can use situational leadership practices to maintain a strong connection with your team:
- Assess each team member’s readiness to work with automation.
- Provide personal guidance and support based on their readiness.
- Regularly evaluate their progress and adapt your leadership style accordingly.
3. Team members self-assign
If work assignments are similar in duration and difficulty, it’s a common practice to let team members simply pick up the next task from a shared queue, or self-schedule their shifts. To ensure productivity, managers usually define clear performance indicators for team members such as tasks per hour or shifts per week.
If tasks majorly vary in difficulty, providing attractive incentives can be a successful strategy that drives team members to pick up all kinds of work, not just the easy things.
Clearly communicating the difficulty, scope and goal of each task is most crucial here, as team members need to independently decide whether they’re the best person to pick up a certain task.
To set them up for success, consider the following steps:
- Categorize tasks based on complexity, skill requirements, and urgency.
- Clearly label each task on the shared list with its attributes.
- Develop a skills matrix that helps team members choose tasks aligned with their abilities. Ideally your tasklist should clearly display the skills required for each task, allowing team members to shortlist those that match their skill set.
- Establish house rules and guidelines for task selection, particularly when additional factors come into play beyond skills and availability. This ensures everyone makes well-informed choices.
How we can help
Zelos Team Management is a very simple collaboration app that helps teams self-assign to available tasks and shifts. It is easy for team managers to build custom member profiles, specify certain skills and abilities necessary for each task, and keep track of the team performance.