Learning the art of delegation

Lately, work has been a bit hectic – for all the best reasons. We’ve got lots of exciting projects underway, which is brilliant, but also means I seem to be endlessly going into meetings, and coming out with a new to do list, which I don’t have time to complete, because I’m too busy having meetings. And so it goes on.

In discussion with a colleague a couple of weeks ago, we realised that one of my major problems is that I’m not very good at delegating. It’s not that I don’t trust the people I work with – I do, completely – but most of the time it’s just easier to handle something myself than ask someone else.

Unfortunately, it turns out ‘I’m just no good at delegating’ is not an acceptable reason not to do it. So over the past few weeks, I’ve been making a real effort to hand over more tasks to my colleagues, and – surprise, surprise – it’s actually working. I still apologise profusely every time I ask someone to do something, but so far nobody’s said no. Perhaps they’re worried I might cry if they do. (I wouldn’t. Probably.)

To do list

I’m very lucky to work with a really supportive team, but learning to delegate is still proving a challenge, because it goes against all my natural instincts. And I don’t think I’m the only one. So I thought I’d work through a few of the reasons why people avoid delegation, and try to answer them with common sense arguments. Hopefully this will be helpful for anyone in a similar situation – and equally, if you’re a delegation expert and have any advice for us newbies, please do feel free to share 🙂

I can do it better myself

A.K.A. ‘I’ve been doing this for ages and know how I want it done.’

But what if the way you want it done isn’t necessarily the best way? There are some tasks I do on a routine basis that could be done more efficiently, but I keep doing them the same way because it’s what I’m used to. If I give it to someone else, they might not do it ‘my way’… but that could be a good thing. It’s never a bad thing to be open to new ideas, and if that means someone else taking over a task, it’s not a reflection on you; it’s just a more efficient use of everyone’s time.

It’ll take too long to explain

A.K.A. ‘I want to give something up, but if I’m too busy to do the thing myself, how am I going to make time to explain it?’

Good point, but in the long run, that time is going to be worth it. Even if you can’t spare the full hour/two hours/day/week right now, give your colleague the basics and start them off with an easy bit that doesn’t take too much explanation. Then, as and when you have time, fill in the gaps for them. It might be better for the other person that way too, so they don’t feel bombarded with information. And bear in mind, also, that you may not be giving them enough credit; they might get the hang of it quicker than you expected.

I like doing this task

A.K.A. ‘I don’t want someone else doing my favourite task, while I’m left doing the boring stuff.’

Unfortunately, work isn’t just about doing the stuff you enjoy. (I know, I’m disappointed too.) Of course you should be happy in your job, but the fact is you’re not being paid to have fun. At least not all the time. Sometimes the boring tasks are the ones that need your attention, and that might mean giving your favourite job to someone else, at least temporarily.

working from home

Everyone else seems busy too

A.K.A. ‘How am I meant to ask my colleagues to do something when they’re also rushed off their feet?’

I find cake to be a highly effective tool in this situation… But seriously, you may be surprised to find your colleagues are not quite as busy as you thought, or that they’re really happy to make room for something else, particularly if they like you and want to help you out (because, in my experience, most people do want to help if you give them the chance. And also cake). You’ll never know if you don’t ask, and the worst they can say is no.

It’ll look bad

A.K.A. ‘My boss will think I can’t handle the pressure if (s)he sees me asking for help.’

You’re not superhuman; you can only do so much with the limited hours in the day. And there’s nothing wrong with asking for help – often it’s the best thing you can do, and much more efficient for the company than trying to do everything yourself. That’s why delegation is a key skill for a good manager. If your boss doesn’t understand that, maybe it’s time to look for a new job.

Do you also have trouble with delegation? I’d love to hear how you handle it.