Effective delegation


Effective delegation is a core management skill that every leader should master. In essence, delegation is an act of transferring responsibility for specific tasks to others (teams or individuals).

Delegation should result in freeing the manager up for more strategic work, but it goes beyond just getting stuff off the manager’s plate. Delegating empowers the teams, builds trust, encourages employees to grow professionally and personally, and prepares them for more responsibility in the future.

While the benefits of effective delegation seem obvious, it’s often done incorrectly resulting in friction, frustration, or re-work.

Micro-management is an example of delegation done wrong. This happens when teams are given tasks that are boring and pre-defined, without any authority over how to complete them. In such cases, there is no trust, empowerment, or room for growth.

Why managers fail to delegate effectively

There are many reasons why even good leaders find delegating difficult. Among others it may be caused by:

Time constraints. Many people are hesitant to delegate tasks because they worry that it will take more time than doing it themselves, especially when deadlines are tight. While this may be valid in the short term, such as during onboarding or building trust, it is rarely the case in the long term when a framework for delegating tasks and mutual expectations has been established. Moreover, this belief only considers the time required to complete a specific task and disregards the fact that building a team takes time and effort.

Lack of trust / not letting things go. Many managers lack trust in their team’s ability to execute a given task properly and believe that only work done under their direct control can deliver good results. This is particularly true for inexperienced managers who have recently been promoted; they often struggle to acknowledge that they cannot – and should not – do everything themselves, and that their success is ultimately in the hands of their team.

Fear of failure. The lack of trust is at the heart of the matter. Managers may have more faith in their abilities to produce high-quality results than in those of others, particularly when they are under pressure. Many decisions in the workplace are driven by a strong desire to avoid the possibility of failure.

Emotional attachment. There are times when managers may find it difficult to delegate work to others because they are emotionally invested in it. This means that they might already have a clear idea of how the tasks should be executed and may not want someone else to take them in a different direction.

Delegation framework

There are some tips and good practices that managers can follow to delegate effectively.

Select what to delegate and to whom. It is important to carefully select what tasks to delegate and to whom. Not all assignments are appropriate for delegation, as there may be tasks that should be done by managers themselves. It’s important to keep in mind that if possible, the task should also provide a development opportunity for the team. The main driver for selecting what to delegate should not simply be freeing up your time. You should consider what will happen if the team fails to deliver, and whether or not their actions are reversible. It’s important to remember that mistakes are part of the learning process and should not be punished.

Choose the right team (or individual) for the job. Please take into account various factors such as limitations, timelines, and the current workload of the team while assigning tasks. It is important to ensure that the tasks assigned are challenging, but still achievable within their skill set. If required, provide training to the team. Consider the team’s willingness to work on the task you have in mind. Assigning tasks that are too easy for them or not of interest may lead to disengagement and frustration. It is essential to assign tasks that match the skills of the team or individuals to enhance their engagement. In case possible, let the team choose the tasks they’re delegated to build trust and inspire engagement.

Explain why and what. When delegating tasks to your team, it’s important to communicate what needs to be done and why it’s important. Providing context for the task allows your team to understand the purpose and take the appropriate course of action. Instead of providing detailed instructions on how to complete the task, focus on the outcomes you expect. This will give your team more flexibility in planning and executing the task.

Align on expectations and success criteria. It is important to communicate your expectations, deadlines, and other constraints clearly. Provide the team with all the necessary information and instructions for the assignment. Establish the success criteria to make it clear when the task is completed. Listen to the team and address their concerns or requests.

Empower and provide support. It is important to delegate tasks while also giving the team the authority to make related decisions. Make sure that everyone is aware that the task has been delegated and that it should be fully supported. Let the team know that you are available to assist and welcome any questions or clarifications they may have. If necessary, provide constructive feedback and guidance to help them accomplish the task successfully.

Hold the team accountable. Delegating means that you have transferred authority for the task to someone else. But, as a leader, you still have to hold them accountable for the outcome.

What to avoid

Do not micro-manage. It’s important to avoid micromanaging your team. Instead, give them the space they need to do their work. Be clear about your expectations at the beginning, and then let your team figure out how to meet those expectations on their own. Focus on the outcomes you want to achieve, rather than getting bogged down in the details of how to execute the task. Be available to offer help and support, but try not to check in too frequently.

Do not take it back. Once you delegate a task, it’s crucial to stick to your decision and provide all the necessary support and guidance to your team, even if the execution is not going well. Don’t take the task back, as it can undermine your team’s confidence. Instead, focus on the development opportunities and consider mistakes as part of the learning journey. Allow for small failures and maintain a positive vibe. Encourage the diversity of thought and creativity within your team.

It’s never black or white

Delegation is not a black-and-white decision, and there are many factors to consider between being overly controlling and leaving everything to the team. Additionally, the level of delegation required can vary depending on the specific context. Some tasks may need more involvement from a manager, while others can be fully delegated to the team.

Management 3.0 has a great framework called Delegation Poker that can be used to define and clarify who’s responsible for what and to what extent. It defines 7 levels of delegation to pick from:

  1. Tell: I will tell them (about my decision).
  2. Sell: I will try and sell the decision to them.
  3. Consult: I will consult and then decide.
  4. Agree: We will agree on it together.
  5. Advise: I will advise but they decide.
  6. Inquire: I will inquire after they decide.
  7. Delegate: I will fully delegate.

that, depending on the context and situation, can be used to delegate tasks to teams.

About the author


Head of Engineering, Agile Coach, PMP, PSM, SPS, PAL I, PAL-EBM

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By Piotr