by Phil Manington

Further barriers to successful delegation

If delegation isn’t working, and the problem does not seem to lie with you, what else could be going wrong and how can the barrier be overcome?

Everyone is already overloaded

You need to look at the work in your team and weed out unimportant tasks. There will undoubtedly be things that people are doing that are not important in the overall scheme of things. Ask them to investigate (the first step towards delegation). Look also at the processes that people are using, as these can often be made more efficient.

People don’t want extra responsibility

Something is seriously wrong if no-one in the team wants to take on new things. You probably have a severe morale problem that you need to address. There can be many reasons for this – for example, there may have been recent redundancies, the team may have had poor feedback from customers or your predecessor might have been a bully. Clearly, the action you take will depend on the issue and you need to investigate what is wrong. See the topic on Motivation for help.

You (or your people) feel you are dumping the boring work on them

There are bound to be some mundane tasks and you should distribute these as evenly as possible. Make sure you are delegating the responsibility, not just the task, and make it clear that you welcome innovation and change. This will increase motivation and make people feel involved in making the team more effective.

You agree to do the next step in a task you have delegated

This happens when you delegate a task, but then get asked something about what to do next and generously say you will undertake that next step. Maybe you really need to do this, but on most occasions this is not the case. You will find that you end up being a bottleneck while your people wait for you to do those next steps in their tasks. If you delegate a task and this happens, either agree it is not working and pull the task, or make sure the task stays delegated and is done by the person to whom it was delegated. For more on this, see the books in Want to know more?

Your boss doesn’t believe in delegation

Surprisingly, there are still people like this about, especially in technical fields. They were promoted because of their expertise and they expect you to follow in their footsteps. Often, you can find that your team also expects you to be the expert and will come to you to solve the most difficult problems. This can be extremely tricky to deal with. You need to do some selling – sit down with your boss and explain the benefits of what you want to do (particularly the benefits to him). Don’t expect immediate success – you are asking him to change some long-held beliefs – and accept that you will need to proceed very slowly. The two keys to success here are

  • Be very well informed about every task you delegate, so that your boss has confidence that you are in control
  • Always give the credit to your staff, so that your boss knows how good they are and begins to trust that you don’t have to be the department expert.