Team leader: tips to delegate work based on personal strength

Average managers play checkers, while great managers play chess” by Marcus Buckingham in the article “What Great Managers Do.”

In checkers, all the pieces are identical in how they can move, whereas in chess, each piece is unique in its ability to move. A chess player needs to combine the unique strengths of all of the pieces to defeat the opponent. 

Similarly, in business, managers need to delegate tasks based on the personal strengths of their team members. By doing so, they can utilize the unique skills of each individual to create a more successful and cohesive team.

To delegate correctly, you must assign the right quantity of work that is neither too simple nor too complicated to your team members. Furthermore, it is essential to give them the necessary context surrounding the task so they comprehend why it needs to be done and how it relates to the greater goal. Delegation is not about asking your team members to do the jobs you do not want to do. It is not about leaving them entirely by themselves to complete the tasks and never checking back again either. Ultimately, you are accountable for the work that your team produces. If this accountability is new to you, well sorry, this is how your boss thinks anyway. 

It would help if you double-check the work before it goes out to another department in the company, to external stakeholders, etc. When you realize something is not up to standard, then you have the choice to either fix it yourself or work with the team to fix it. Time would be the main factor in most cases to differentiate the two options.  

If you don’t know how to delegate effectively, you will limit the output of your team’s effort. One symptom is that you are busy all the time, and things don’t move when you are not on it. You can not take days off since you know the team will not function well without you. Delegation also helps you to progress to the next level in your career since the way for you to perform at the next level is to have someone (ideally from your team) to be able to do the work that you are doing now. 

The key to effective delegation is to understand what each of your team members can potentially handle. If someone shows the potential and willingness to do more, then you can start to gradually delegate more and more complex work to him/her. The level of hands-on or hands-off depends on the individuals. Do not think that a hands-off approach is what everyone wants because some people may want you to walk them through each step. Others, even if it is their first time doing something, prefer to read the directions and then explore without help. In his book “High output management”, Andrew Grove said that the degree at which you could be hands-on or hands-off depends on how mature the team members are in the task.  

For example, you may need to be reasonably descriptive to fresh graduates like showing them how to pull a report with cost and revenue broken down by country for the last quarter. For someone more senior, it’s about working with him/her on the outline/critical message in each section of the report and then leaving it to him/her to finish the graphs/slides, etc. After that, you still need to spend time reviewing the final narrative to ensure that it makes sense. Generally, delegation without guidance is not recommended, especially if your team members are new to the task/project. 

Fair delegation 

It is crucial to maintain a feeling of fairness amongst your team when you delegate so that they don’t feel as if they are working very hard while you “play.” I often hear things like “my managers do not carry adequate weight and ask me to do everything”, or worse, “my manager claims all of the credit for my work”. In this case, the manager is indeed lazy, or he/she fails to give context to their team members on why the allocation is of a certain way and what he/she is doing to help to advance the entire team. If you need to give a more difficult workload to one team member in order to complete the project both on time and with excellent quality, then gratitude such as extra days off, credit during a company meeting or special bonus can be helpful.

How do you ensure that everyone on your team is aware of what’s going on and feels like they are being treated fairly?

To begin, you and every team member need to be honest about what everyone is working on. It’s just as important to explain how this will help the team in general. From there, schedule either individual or group meetings to talk about each person’s thoughts regarding their workloads.

If someone feels that he/she is being overworked, try to redistribute the tasks a bit so that the individual does not feel overwhelmed. However, do not forget to praise those who are working hard and carrying a heavier workload – this will help to motivate them. 

Creating meaningful & purposeful work for each member 

The next level of delegation is about creating meaningful work for each member of your team. Meaningful work is different for each person because of their background, career, and life aspirations. Ask your team members what is of interest to them in the longer term or even outside of work. It can serve as the springboard to construct meaningful work for them. The work needs to connect to the company mission, and goals so you need to be aware of the parameters that you should work within.  

The key is to always have a growth mindset when you are delegating tasks. This means that you need to see every task, no matter how small, as an opportunity for your team members to grow. For example, if you are delegating the task of creating a presentation, think about how this particular team member can use this opportunity to develop his/her skills in public speaking, or creating visuals.

Moreover, you should also aim to create a sense of ownership for each task that you delegate. This will help to increase engagement and buy-in from your team members. You can do this by asking them for their input on how the task should be approached or what the final outcome should look like. Giving them the opportunity to be creative and have a say in the process will help to increase their level of engagement.

The takeaway

Delegation is a crucial skill for any manager, but it’s one that takes practice to perfect. The key is to find the right balance between guidance and independence and to always have your team’s best interests at heart. By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a master delegator.

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