What is Delegation

From Dictionary.com

Delegate, verb (used with object), delegated, delegating.
* To send or appoint (a person) as deputy or representative.
* To commit (powers, functions, etc.) to another as agent or deputy.

Delegation is one of the most powerful tools available to you.

Delegation done well :
* Saves time and money
* Builds skills in others
* Increases your teams motivation.

Delegation done badly :
* Leads to unhappy teams
* Develops an atmosphere of distrust.

When you delegate, you are stating the outcome that you need. In most cases, you are not dictating the method of obtaining the outcome. There are times when a set path must be used. Make it clear to the delegatee if this is the case.

One of the biggest issues with delegation comes from the way it is implemented. It is often thought of as a passing of responsibility and accountability for something from a boss to a subordinate. This is not so. Responsibility and accountability are not delegated, it remains with the delegator. What you delegate is the authority to perform an activity.

An area to look out for with delegation, do not slip into micro-managing. When you micro-manage you are dictating every step, and continually reviewing every detail. This is inefficient. If you are managing at this level then why did you delegate in the first place? If you are the delegatee, being micro-managed highlights the lack of trust in you.

It is very easy to accidentally slip into the micro-managing mindset. You need to continually remind yourself to step back and let the delegatee perform the activity.


What is Authority

Authority is the power and resources required to carry out an activity. It should be defined clearly and concisely. With authority comes responsibility. This is the responsibility to perform the work within the scope of the activity assigned.

Once given, authority should not be needlessly taken away. Doing so indicates a lack of trust in the individual and their skills and abilities. If the activity is not progressing then you need to spend time finding out why it is not moving forward. This allows you to offer the correct guidance to the person doing the activity to meet the desired outcome.


How To Delegate

Delegation Diagram


Identify The Work

Want to delegate some work but not sure what. Use your Important/Urgent grid to help decide. Anything in the Schedule or Delegate areas are prime for delegation.

Before you can delegate something you need to know what it is.

Have you clearly defined what is needed? If not then spend some time thinking about what it is you need done. If you have a poorly thought out request then it will inevitably lead to a poor outcome.

Is it clear and well documented? Make sure you write it out.

Are there any limitations? Document them.

Is there a timeline that is required? Document it.

What resources are available? Document them.


Identify The Person

Who do you want to run the activity? Document it.

Do they have the correct abilities and skills? If not document what you can do to help them to gain these.

Do they have enough time available?

Is there a team for them to lead? Document it.

If the person does not have or be able to get these, then why are you delegating to them? You are likely setting them up to fail. Don’t be that person. Delegate for success not failure.


Define The Scope and Authority

Now you have identified everything you need spend a bit of time making sure it is well documented, concise and clear.

Try and use bullet points and not paragraphs, as this aids with quick understanding. Keep it clear and simple.

A lot of times delegation happens via a quick conversation without any proper definition of requirements, etc. When you get the results of the activity it then does not meet your memory of the conversation. Trying to work from memory, without a properly documented list of requirements, can lead very quickly to work heading off in the wrong direction.

There is nothing wrong with assigning an activity in a conversation. Just spend a couple of minutes to follow it up with an email, or assignment in your project or task management system.

This document does not need to be very big, it may just be a couple of bullet points. It is still worth spending the small amount of time doing this and not the wasted time from misunderstood requirements.


Clarify The Work

This is one of two touch points between the delegator and the delegatee. This is a step that is often skipped. Don’t.

Here you are able to discuss the activity being delegated, and use this as the opportunity that both of you understand the activity that is being done.

You may use this opportunity to explain why you selected the person, highlight to them the benefits, and other skills they may gain.

The delegatee may have concerns about their abilities to perform the activity. Here you have the first chance to start to coach them in a way forward. Let them know you will be there to offer support and guidance, but you will not be doing the work for them. Once you have made this promise make sure you keep it.

You will come back to this step several times. Try and view each session as a coaching opportunity.

In these sessions try not to be directive. Try and ask questions that will guide the delegatee thought processes towards a solution. Remember you have delegated to get an outcome, not on how to get to that outcome.


Perform The Work

Here the delegatee is running the activity. As the delegator, you should be hands-off at this stage. Don’t be looking over their shoulders. Don’t be asking others how they are doing. Let the delegatee get on with the work.

As the delegator, you may find this the hardest stage. You can see things not going as you think they should and will want to jump in to help. Don’t. Obviously, if there is something dangerous you need to intervene, but try to do this only as an emergency step. Wait until your next review session.

One of the best ways to learn is through mistakes, and then taking the steps to recover from them.


Review The Work

This is the second touch point between delegator and delegatee.

Depending on the activity assigned, this could be in a weekly one-on-one, a five-minute chat at the water-cooler, or only at successful completion of the activity.

In this stage, you review the progress of the activity, any issues that may have arisen and offer support for anything the delegatee raises.

It is likely that this will merge with the “Clarify” stage once the activity is in progress.

If the activity is completed and the outcome achieved then give appropriate feedback to the delegatee.

If the activity has not achieved the outcome then spend some time diving into why it has not. This is not a blame step. Blame does not achieve anything. The aim is to understand what went wrong so that both of you can learn something from it to make sure that future activities are successful.

This stage is often skipped. This is a mistake. In review, you learn. If everything went well you have learned that you were correct in your decisions. If things did not go well then you learn what needs to be done differently.

For large activities it is important you review together every week. You then move back to the Clarify stage where you can offer coaching and advice if required.


Delegatee – how to handle something that has been delegated to you

This area is often overlooked. Most people assume that everyone knows what to do when something is delegated to them.

Follow this flow to help you move through the activity.

Delegation - how to do activity


Some of the key steps here are :

Do I Have Everything I Need?

Make sure you have a clearly documented definition of the activity.

Are there any resources you may need?

Are there any other people you may need?

If there is a deadline, do you have enough time to complete the activity?

Ensure you raise with the delegator anything that you are confused or unclear on.

If you start confused then you are already on the path to failure.


Do I Have The Knowledge I Need?

Have you the skills and knowledge to do the activity?

Many people do not feel they have the right skills to do a piece of work, talk with the delegator to ask for coaching or guidance. Remember though, they are there to support you, not to do the work for you.


Perform Work

Make a plan. For small tasks, it may be very simple.

If you do not plan then how do you know where you are going or what your progress is?

I alway try to remember the six Ps : Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.


Review Work

Review your progress against your plan.

For larger activities set up regular sessions with the delegator to review progress and get feedback from them.


Am I Stuck?

Hit an issue, can you work out the solution yourself? If so, do it.

Can’t come up with a solution, then seek help and advice.

Do not go running to the delegator every time you hit an issue. That will not help you. The activity was delegated to you because the delegator trusts in your abilities. But, do not feel you need to solve everything yourself.

If you need to seek advice then make sure you can clearly explain the issue, the steps you have already taken to try to address it, and ideally, one or two possible ways forward you think you can take. You’ll be surprised that the delegator may then be able to work with you and these plans to help you work out what to do.


Seek Feedback and Record Lessons Learned

This is a step that is often overlooked. Once you’ve completed the activity ask the delegator for feedback. Be ready for both good and bad.

Feedback is a key part of delegation. It allows you to express what you have learned from the activity and provides the delegator an opportunity to offer some more coaching if required.

One of the key points with feedback is to make sure you record any lessons learned, and then include them in future activities. This does not need to be a formal process. It could be as simple as a word-processing document that you add them to and then read once a week.



Delegation is one of the most important tools for any business. When performed well it increases the skills available in the business and can lead to improved team happiness. When done badly it can lead to an unhappy working atmosphere, and impacts on your teams productivity.

Delegation is a two-way street, with both delegator and delegatee having responsibilities to make it a success. There should be a continual flow of coaching and guidance.

After any piece of work, make sure you spend time providing feedback. These lessons learned allow you to drive towards results and team morale.

Also published on Medium.