When we think about the delegation of authority, we often think about “pushing” tasks or work to our team members. But metaphorically, it’s taking something currently on your plate, by choice or circumstance, and moving it to one of your team members’ plates.
A previous blog on delegated authority focused on how managers can build the skills to balance workload across their teams. The world and work landscape has been uprooted since then. Between the abrupt shift to remote during the pandemic, distributed work and workforces, the Great Resignation, record low unemployment, staffing shortages, employee burnout, and hyper-focus on culture & employee experience.
Managers are facing new challenges to lead and engage their teams that require new skills effectively or, in this case, a “reframe” of skills like delegation of authority.
When done well, delegating tasks, projects, and authority creates space for you as the manager as well as your team members.
Start With You, the Manager
It’s important to ask yourself, “what outcome do I want?” Most often, the desired outcome is not simply to shift work but to:
- Create capacity for you as a manager
- Build your team’s capability
- Drive engagement, retention, and team performance
Once you’ve considered your desired outcome, ask yourself, “Am I prepared to not just delegate the work, but delegate the authority to make decisions regarding the work?” If so, “What are the expectations, conditions, or considerations for my team to be successful?”
Once you’re ready, reframe delegation through these employee experience lenses.
Delegating Authority Reframe 1: Delegation as Empowerment
The tension with delegation doesn’t lie within assigning the work to a team member, but in stepping away and letting the team member own what’s been given to them. Establishing this culture of accountability is often a point where managers most commonly struggle. Assigning tasks or projects and then micro-managing their completion isn’t creating capacity for you as a manager or building capability on your team. In fact, it’s counterproductive and erodes trust and culture.
Daniel Pink’s best seller “Drive” talked about the three important motivational factors for managers to recognize: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Autonomy is flexibility and space to do work independently. Pink describes the conditions for autonomy as having ownership over “the task, the time, the technique, and the team.”
Delegating, then empowering your team member to own what’s been assigned to them requires alignment on expectations, trust, and clear, consistent communication.
- Reframe your team member as the CEO of the task or project
- Share expectations, ask questions, provide input, and offer support
- Let them run the task or project like they own it
Delegating Authority Reframe 2: Delegation as Development
Employee growth and development is one of the main drivers of engagement and often why employees leave organizations. With retention and engagement being such a critical focus in the current environment, delegating projects or tasks to your team members as a development opportunity is a great way to build capability and develop talent.
Pink describes Mastery as “the feeling I am getting better at things that matter, by getting feedback.”
For managers, delegating authority and pushing decision-making and ownership down in your organization is a powerful development tool. It builds critical problem-solving skills and creates a sense of accountability for the tasks and outcomes.
When delegating authority as a development tool, it’s important is aligns with your team member’s strength(s) and development goal(s).
Practice: Try reframing the task as a question like:
- “Could I get your help with something?”
- “Could I give you a project?”
Asking your team member involves them directly in the delegation. It can help them communicate what authority and resources they need to be successful.
Delegating Authority Reframe 3: Delegation as a Team Sport
Managers have a noble goal, building and leading a high-performing team working together to achieve a common goal. A strong sense of individual and shared trust and accountability is an essential characteristic of high-performing teams.
There is a natural tension between trust, accountability, and clear expectations; communication and feedback live in the space created by that tension.
When delegating authority within your team, this practice must be visible and apparent to the team member that you’re delegating to, as well as the entire team.
This practice clarifies roles and expectations, demonstrates your commitment to empowering the team, and models behaviors aligning with your vision and goals.
Accountability is demonstrated through ownership and agency over tasks, decisions, risks, and results across the team. Trust is built by consistently holding our team and ourselves accountable to the same expectations.
- Set guiding principles in your team around delegation
- Explain what authority means and what support looks like
- Use team time, staff meetings, and 1:1s to reinforce your expectation and your role
- Say, “I am here to support you if, how, and when you need me.”
Recap of Your Role in Delegation of Authority
Remember, the way you delegate authority only begins at the transfer of the task. The real work is in the process. How you set expectations, offer resources, check-in, ask questions, remove obstacles, offer support, allow space for small failures or missteps, and, importantly, resist the urge to step in fully unless requested will be the true step of how effectively you delegate authority. It’s a learning process for you and your team.
How Aspirant Can Help
Managing teams is tough and relinquishing some level of control is challenging for many of us, but becoming comfortable with delegation is part of the maturation process for any leader. Think your team could use more direct support? Aspirant's Organizational Effectiveness experts can help develop and socialize a cohesive plan that keeps your company engaged and actively collaborating. Use the form below to schedule a casual discussion to explore how we can help amp up your team's productivity.
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