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Managing  a business or leading a team requires effective delegation of responsibilities. However, we often see this not happening effectively and as a result, progress gets hampered in many fronts. 

Delegation is something we are exposed to a lot in our life, both at work and otherwise. Even as a bunch of kids, when we set out to steal some mangoes from the farm, we divide into teams – one to watch for the security personnel, one to climb the tree and pluck out mangoes and the third to collect them. in our own family, we have seen our parents share the responsibilities and assigning smaller responsibilities to the kids for effective management of the household. When we take up our jobs, we get to know our roles and responsibilities, which are designed to contribute to the overall objective of the organization.

We notice that such distribution is of two kinds – one in which we are asked to do a specific task and the other where we are assigned an area of responsibility. For example, your mother may ask you to pick up some groceries, from a specific shop, on your way home from work. Over time, you may be made responsible for ensuring the house is always well stocked with groceries. Even in this example, picking up specified groceries on the way home, demands much less compared to being responsible for ensuring the groceries are always available per need. It is easier to meet expectations when you just need to pick up specified list of groceries. Managing groceries for the family demands a lot more knowledge and training. Still the expectations are less defined, creating a challenge to perform.

When we become project managers, we learn to plan the project and assign resources. We are told to define the various components of work needed to accomplish the project completion and detail out the components in the most unambiguous way, and get them done by using the allocated resources. Is this delegation by the project manager? Yes, it is. However, the scope is limited and the distribution of tasks is by design.

When we grow to be business managers or managers with a team of people, we assume our responsibilities as part of the role. Each member in our team also have their own responsibilities as a part of their role. However, we come together to ensure we deliver what is expected of the team. There are a lot of overlaps and gaps that we find and we learn to course correct. However, many of us, as managers assume that our managerial responsibilities cannot be shared with our team members. For example, we are managing a team that had 4 members and we managed these people directly. We trained these 4 people directly, assigned their daily tasks, guided them and provided feedback as needed. Over time, we have a more people joining the team and the team size grows to 8. Having become more adept at handling the team directly, we extend ourselves to manage the 8 people directly. Then again, when the team becomes 12, we stretch ourselves to the point of burning ourselves out but do not utilize the senior, capable members to help manage our extended work load. This happens due to several reasons. Some of them are:

  1. You do not see the growth/learning on the part of the early team members and fail to recognize their ability to take the responsibility. It is like a child, who never is an adult, in the eyes of the parent.
  2. You continue to see the errors in execution by the members and do not feel confident in what they can deliver.
  3. You do not feel safe giving up control of your tasks.
  4. You feel it is easier to do it yourself than to guide somebody, who could learn and do.
  5. You are uncomfortable with any method/style other than your own in getting things done.
  6. You see yourself as a protector of your team members above all other responsibilities. You are anxious that your team member may fail and may be detrimental to her/his growth. Yes, we may misjudge their capability while delegating. Even then, it is better to delegate and recover any mishap than not to delegate at all. 

In other words, it boils down to lack of trust, risk aversion, extreme sense of ownership, protectionist attitude, inability to mentor and groom.

Such apathy towards delegation, is equally harmful to all concerned. The manager shuts down self growth as well as growth of the team member, and over time, the organization will suffer. Awareness about such traits in oneself, openness to work with some one and building them up for a higher responsibility, will go a long way in cultivating effective delegation, a key skill in successful management.

Gopal