Delegation is a gift

How to prioritise what’s important by empowering others

Having recently celebrated a birthday (the first in 2 years I haven’t felt blowing out candles was a COVID risk), I was reminded that the best thing about a birthday is (as we all know) the gifts. But as I was tearing off wrapping paper I had an odd thought. 

Wouldn’t it be weird if the way we gave gifts was like the way we often give work?

What if the way we thought about handing over presents was the way we thought about delegation?

  • I was going to give them a gift but I thought it would be quicker to give it to myself
  • They have so much stuff already – this gift would be one thing too many
  • I got the impression they were too busy opening presents from other people
  • I didn’t think they’d be able to unwrap this gift as well as I could
  • I didn’t want to make it seem like I was getting rid of all my stuff

That would be really weird. Even to think like that. Yet that’s exactly how we’re tempted to think about giving when it comes to delegation.

  • I was going to give them a task but I thought it would be quicker to give it to myself
  • They have so much to do already – this would be one task too many
  • I got the impression they were too busy on projects for other people
  • I didn’t think they’d be able to handle this brief as well as I could
  • I didn’t want to make it seem like I was passing off all my work

Those phrases seem a whole lot more familiar – even if they exist as thoughts (often subconscious ones) in our heads. They show us how negatively we think of the work we could give. Yet, delegated work can stretch our teams, develop skills, empower team members to do great work, enable team collaboration and that’s all before we get to the benefits for the delegator. Delegation gives us as delegators more time available to focus on what’s really important. The more strategic work. The big picture.

So, how do we overcome these barriers to embrace delegation as a gift? I’d suggest we don’t shy away from delegation but GIVE it.

G – Generously

Having work to do is the definition of a job. Being delegated work, on a fundamental level, is what keeps us employed. As mentioned above, there are many more benefits. If we aren’t already, we should start giving work generously. Delegate like it keeps your team in their jobs. Delegate like it increases motivation and grows skills. Delegate like it supercharges your team. Because it does.

I – Intentionally

Choosing a gift starts with working out what would suit that person. Good delegation starts in a similarly person-centred way. Who are my options for delegating this? What’s their skill level at this particular task? How motivated would they be to do it? Is this this right thing for them to be spending their time on? Get intentional with timings too. Delegation that’s not timely looks like giving an “I need this done today” task at 16.45pm. Or later. Instead, delegate intentionally and early.

V – Verbally

Our IW Studio love a verbal brief. Of course, we’re using Slack too. (#designrequests) But the hardest work to do is the work that hasn’t been communicated verbally. We have an unspoken rule at IW that goes something like ‘If someone hasn’t confirmed verbally, you haven’t had confirmation.’ We can’t ping a message to a teammate saying, ‘Can you do this?’, get no response, and assume it will be done. It’s not about trust. We trust our team. It’s just about making sure – in all of our communication – that our message is heard, not just spoken.

E – Empathetically

The best delegation is done within a framework of understanding. If intentionality is to ensure we’re giving work well, empathetic delegation is to ensure our teammates receive work well. Just because delegation is a gift, that doesn’t mean we can ditch it on their doorstep and run. We can still use all of our empathy that we often use not to delegate and use that to delegate. Acknowledging how much a team member already has on their plate can be a good place to start. And – if we are their manager – sharing our commitment to help them reprioritise those tasks alongside the new task coming their way.

So, think really clearly and considerately about how to give – and, using the model above, how to GIVE – tasks to others when delegating.