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Career Q&A | By Liz Reyer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Learn how to delegate

Q: I'm struggling to be better at delegating. It's hard for me to step back, see the big picture and give the work to my team in a way that helps our whole group succeed. What steps can I take?

A: Sometimes it seems easier to just do it yourself, but in the long run that won't serve you well. Learn to trust your team and provide the skills they need to do their work effectively.

The inner game

To sort out this situation, you need to know yourself, your team and the work that needs to be accomplished.

Start with yourself. What's keeping you in "do it all" mode? Perhaps you think others will work differently or not as well. You may lack the organizational skills to define and assign the tasks. You may simply be so busy that you can't take a step back and articulate the big picture.

There's another inner dynamic that may be getting in your way. Many people feel that if they aren't doing the work themselves, they aren't really contributing. Take some time to think about your presence as a leader, and what your leadership contributions are.

Next, consider your team. Do you know each person's skills and interests well enough to be able to assign work to them? Create a profile for each person, then discuss it individually with the employee to deepen your understanding.

Finally, clarify all of the work that falls within your team's scope. Start with the big picture — a sentence on what your team delivers. Break it down to the next level, listing large areas of effort in support of specific groups of internal or external clients. Keep drilling down, covering all of the general and detailed work that your team does.

The outer game

Use the "inner game" analyses to map out your resource pool. Don't focus on how much of each individual's time is being assigned; just map people to tasks. If you find that there's someone who could become overextended or who doesn't have the skills to be fully utilized, this is useful insight. For now, keep yourself out of the mapping.

Then create a work plan, assigning tasks to team members. Be sure to provide the resources they need, including enough of your time to bring them up to speed on tasks you've been doing. Be available to answer questions in the moment to avoid roadblocks. That's the role of a leader, along with educating your organization on realistic work volumes and timelines.

Longer range, plan assignments that'll stretch your employees. These tasks are candidates for delegation, but they will require more mentoring from you. That's the direction you should ultimately go in, but not as a first step.

Find someone to help you learn. Think back over your career to someone who's shown skill at delegating, and use that person as a role model. Find a mentor or coach to help put this into action. You're trying to break a habit, along with acquiring new skills, and new habits take months to form.

The last word

Your department will be more successful and you'll be more effective once you master the art of delegation.

Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes.

Learn how to delegate 03/10/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 3:30am]
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