As promised in my post on delegation poker, here comes an article on delegation and what steps you can do to make sure that you delegate successfully. If the image here represents how you feel when considering delegation, have a look if this might help you.
Delegation brings with it the possibility to transfer responsibility for tasks within your organization. The term distributed control in a complex system is used to describe the condition where authority is distributed into all corners of a network. And there are two of the more important terms with delegation: responsibility and authority. They are complemented by accountability and are key in delegation.
Authority to make decisions can be delegated by the person or the organization holding the authority in the first place and transferring it to another member of the organization.
Responsibility is handled differently depending on your organization. It can be assigned by a team lead to team members, if that how your organization is set up.
One case that comes up frequently when leaders talk about delegation is when the delegated task does not go to plan, however, the team lead will be held responsible. If that is the constellation you are leading in, then be aware of this aspect and know that this is part of your job.
It may not be one of the pleasant aspects, but leadership is also about taking responsibility here too. Setting the right direction when assigning responsibility and setting boundaries on the areas in question can help towards avoiding situations like this.
Accountability results in an obligation of the person taking it on to perform the task. Make sure that whoever you are delegating to understands the expectations of them when taking over a task or area.
Being clear on that and having identified the WHAT of your delegation are good first steps to take.
Now about how much to delegate!
Having a feeling of control over things is one aspect some people and particularly some leaders can find challenging when pondering delegation. The levels of delegation demonstrate a balance of power from a person, team or organization holding decision power to the person or team on the other side, taking on more decision power.
Letting go and taking on responsibility can be made easier by following the structure of seven levels below:
Level 1 – tell
You, as the person owning a decision are, make a decision and can explain why you decided this way to a group of people executing the task (or tasks). There is usually little appetite for discussion in this scenario.
Level 2 – sell
You, as the person owning a decision area, make a decision for others and try to convince them of the fact that you decided correctly, helping the others to feel involved.
Level 3 – consult
You, as decision maker, ask for input from involved parties, takes them into consideration and make a decision respecting those opinions.
Level 4 – agree
Everyone, including you, involved in the decision area is involved into a discussion about the decision and the group reaches a consensus on what to decide.
Level 5 – advise
You offer your opinion to the decision maker(s), and hope they take it into account, but the decision is theirs.
Level 6 – inquire
You leave it to the decision maker(s) to make their decision and request them to sell their decision to you afterwards, and convince you of it.
Level 7 – delegate
You leave decisions to the assigned decision maker(s) and don’t want to know about the details surrounding the topic, as you have other things to attend to.
Maybe you are sitting there going ‘phew’ or ‘what?’ particularly at that last one. It is a big one – and the one most of the leaders I work with balk at, saying that that would, for example, mean they don’t care anymore – so lets break it down a bit using an example from my past in leadership:
One of the projects I led was the construction of a test platform for the cabin and cargo areas of the A350XWB. The engineers working on that project had tasks ranging from building the actual platform to programming computer systems feeding the platform with information so that it would behave as in flight.
Any decision concerning areas such as these – programming the avionics and computer systems replicating flight conditions – were left entirely to my project team. I might say it was a level 7 with inquiry rights in terms of having discussed with my team that if questions arose it was important that I could ask questions, but there was no decision I was making in this area. And a good thing too, since programming was not my forte!
Was it always easy to let go like this? No. I had to field questions from outside from people who approached me and tell them I would get back to them and was not able to answer on the spot. And it can be hard to keep people waiting, particularly if they are higher up in the food chain than you.
Am I glad I did it? Yes! There is no way I could have had more influence on this work as it was not my area nor my expertise, and it would have meant a lot more pressure on me as a project manager and leader of this team to even try, and less time for my areas of responsibility in leadership.
If you are finding letting go hard, one thing you could try is looking at the things in your life that you delegate every day:
- For example, when you go shopping, you don’t get involved in the supply chain of the supermarket, do you? That is someone else’s job.
- When you mail a letter or a package, you choose your service provider but once you have handed over the letter, you delegate the delivery process to them.
- When you buy your favourite cake at the bakery nearby, you don’t tell them how to make it, do you? 😊
If you find yourself needing further support in applying the levels of delegation, don’t hesitate to get in touch, be it for delegation as a leader, as a team or within your organization. I look forward to hearing from you.
Reference: Management for happiness, J. Appelo.