This is the eleventh part of a 12-part series featuring snippets from our new book, Team by Team. The only team building book ever written by the actual team. You can buy the ebook here.
Articles in this series:
- Selfishness: The Key to Teamwork
- Failing Forwards
- Stretch vs Support
- Teeming with Teams
- The Honey Badger
- Say What You Mean
- Meditation over Mediation
- People over Positions
- Comments over Likes
- Growth: Cohesion not Expansion
The gift of delegation
The iMac I unwrapped on Christmas Day was probably the best gift I’ve ever been given. My parents nailed it that year. Like they do every year, actually. Giving can often feel just as good. Of John Lewis’ now iconic Christmas ads, there was one that completely changed the Christmas ad game. It followed the common narrative of a boy who can’t wait for Christmas, yet with the twist that the thing he’s most excited about is giving the presents he’s prepared to his parents. It finished with the line, “Gifts you can’t wait to give.”
If giving is so good, then why is delegation so difficult? Giving work to someone else seems complicated. We have to give up control. Often, we think it’d be better to do the work ourselves or that it will look like we’re palming off our workload to someone else so we can do the fun stuff or put our feet up.
Through nearly a year of management in the high-performing team that is Interactive Workshops, this is what I’ve learnt: work is a gift. I’m incredibly grateful to have been given the role I have. If I run out of work, not only am I likely to be bored and not effectively stretched, it means I’m dispensable and likely to lose my job. Even though, when it comes to delegation, we fear the work delegated has little value to the delegatee, the very reason we’re clinging to our projects is because we know work is valuable. Work is great.
So here’s the plea: please give work generously. In any other area of life, something good is even better given generously. However, when it comes to delegation, we’re more likely to hold back. It creates RAM delegation. A reminder: to ram means “to roughly force.” It looks like this:
We can feel guilty about giving away our work or think that it’s actually easier or better to do it ourselves.
Even when we’ve decided to delegate, our reluctance can lead to an awkwardness. An unclear brief. A lack of a clear outcome.
Imagine giving someone a brand new car but only letting them drive it on Tuesdays. And only on trips to Scunthorpe. When we give work, but dictate exactly how it’s done, we remove the joy of work and devalue the gift of delegation. It’s the worst way to give something.
There’s an alternative. A team member doesn’t have to RAM work upon their teammates. They can GIVE work. Here’s how work is delegated at Interactive Workshops:
Being given work is what keeps the team in their jobs. It might sound like doing a bad job to give away lots of your work, but if the work runs out for a team member, they’re dispensable.
I hope my manager gives me a load of work. And gives me work generously. The opposite is that they don’t value me or my skills enough to pass on work.
“I hope I get given a load of work. Generously.”
To give someone a job requires intentionality. I can’t give my design team a new job to do at 16.45pm. A team member with low intentionality will end up asking for something to be done late in the day, or a project started on Friday afternoon. Good intentionality involves preparation before delegation. A conscious decision that the work is to be handed over gives you a clear perspective on the control shift.
Our design team needs 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 a rule at Interactive Workshops that goes, “If someone hasn’t confirmed verbally, you haven’t had confirmation.” We can’t afford to assume an accepted calendar invite is equal to attendance. We can’t be pinging a Slack 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 about making sure there’s a tin can on the other end of the string.
The best delegation is done within a framework of understanding. If intentionality is to ensure you’re giving work well, empathetic delegation is to ensure your teammates receive work well. I do as much as I can to understand not just what my team are doing, but how my team are doing. We live in an age of emotional intelligence. Delegation is no longer just about whether the delegatee is smart enough to do the job. Generous delegation considers the emotions involved too. Whenever I’ve been asked to take on a big or even lastminute project, the best managers I’ve worked for have been empathetic. They’ve acknowledged how much work I’ve already got on my plate. They’ve praised me for tasks done before adding a new task to be done. Maybe they’ve made sure the verbal delegation takes place over a coffee.
Delegation done generously, intentionally, verbally and empathetically? Now that’s work I can’t wait to give.
Download Team by Team on Amazon Kindle here.