How Do I Delegate?

Davina Greene is a coach, trainer, and People & Organisational Development consultant based in Dublin, Ireland. This column was first published (adapted) in Irish Tatler magazine, on sale October 2013.

My desk is piled high with new projects, but I find it difficult to delegate to my team. Is there a recommended method?

We often focus on the immediate negatives of delegation (effort, inevitable beginner error…), forgetting that it will actually contribute to long-term employee, business and self-development.

Four phases are generally recommended, in partnership with the staff member, balancing directive and supportive behaviours. If you cover these at an appropriate pace, you are being clear and fair (and, of course, nobody likes a hit-and-run delegator or ‘bomber’!)

Firstly, Direct – give technical instruction during the initial period of ‘learner enthusiasm’, when knowledge is low. Next, Support – step away only slightly, in the knowledge that the staff member now ‘knows what they don’t know’ and may become frustrated. Then Coach, moving back further – discuss and involve them, as issues arise, rather than just ‘giving answers’ as they swing between confidence and uncertainty. You finally Delegate when they confirm confidence and readiness to stand alone.

Teaching someone to boil a kettle, the four phases may take five seconds. Delegating a project may, however, take weeks. The key is, you need to agree which phase you are in at all times – one of you cannot race ahead of the other. Yes, you probably increase your workload through this effort, before being able to formally delegate the task, but it’s worth it in terms of engagement with your team, correctness of hand-over, and the longer-term rewards that both will bring.