Sticky solutions to your everyday business challenges
Question: I’m a new manager of a small team at a nonprofit. We are careful with our overhead spending which means that we’re chronically understaffed. I really struggle with delegation because it takes longer to teach people and get the quality results that I’m looking for. I’ve fallen into the “I’ll just do it myself” trap and can’t get my own work done. How do I dig myself out?
Answer: First, take a beat to acknowledge that you’re taking responsibility for falling into a trap of your own making. That shows emotional intelligence. Next, we recommend that you take the following actions to dig yourself out.
Before you meet with a team member to delegate a task, document the steps for how you would handle the work. Include the how, why and when for the task, so that your team member will have the “handles” necessary to understand your thinking when you’re not around to ask. If possible, provide examples of the work output and be specific about what you look for in terms of quality.
Review your expectations for the task with the team member who should own it, and ask that she follow your guide when she takes on the task herself. Use your emotional intelligence to allow the team member to take the work product to a better place than you did once she shows you that they she can meet your standards of quality.
Finally, ask the team member to update the documentation so that it will be easier to train future team members, instead of going back to square one each time a new team member is onboarded.
Just as you acknowledged that you made a leadership mistake by “just doing it yourself”, you probably made mistakes when you first took on the task that you are delegating. Even with a documented process, give your team members the clearance to make mistakes as they learn.
Establish a mutually-agreeable schedule to check in with one another. During these check-ins, watch for opportunities to praise the positive momentum you see that the team member is making. When you see an error or potential error, ask the team member questions about her thought process. You may be tempted to ask questions like “What were you thinking?” or “Why did you do it that way?”, but successful delegation requires you to lead your team member to come up with answers in a way that she doesn’t feel punished. Instead, say “Tell me more about….” or “Help me understand…” to give your team member the freedom to critically think through her thought process and come to an understanding of her choices with your guidance.
Sometimes, it just seems easier to hold onto a task rather than let a team member stumble her way through. But delegating is an essential part of any manager’s role. Done well, it coaches people as they learn, raises self-esteem, and frees up your own time to focus on what you should be doing.