Common Barriers to Effective Delegation: What's Holding You Back?

Common Barriers to Effective Delegation: What's Holding You Back?
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Aspects of Successful Delegation

The supervisor hands you a folder of work that needs to be completed. You accept the folder and get ready to tackle the tasks at hand. In simplest terms, this is an example of effective delegation.

Break down this process, and you will notice several mechanisms that interconnect:

  • The recipient of the folder takes responsibility for the work that needs to be done.
  • In so doing, the worker also accepts the accountability to the supervisor; if the work does not get done, the employee knows that the supervisor will demand answers.
  • The supervisor reaffirms the company’s confidence in the employee.
  • Freeing up time and desk space, the supervisor increases business productivity by taking on a new task.

IB Madison blogger Terry Siebert ingeniously defines this act of delegation as “the extension of oneself through another person/group.” Unfortunately, both supervisors and workers can make handing off tasks in an effective manner quite difficult.

Barriers to Delegation: Supervisors

  1. Insufficient definition of the task. The supervisor hands off an unfinished assignment to the worker. Several outcomes are possible but there is no clear direction in which the supervisor wants to go. The worker either hazards a guess or takes the path of least resistance, which may not necessarily be in keeping with the needs of the business.
  2. Lack of record keeping. A delegation log lets the supervisor keep track all the tasks that are currently being tackled by others. Failure to keep track lets jobs fall through the cracks, which opens up the company to liabilities. Not having a log also does not alert the supervisor to stalled projects.
  3. Micromanagement. The supervisor transfers the manual aspects of the task but not the responsibility to see it through. This kind of supervisor hovers and continuously offers input on even the minutest aspects of the job; all of which overall negates the worker’s competence and expertise.
  4. Improper choice. To whom should the supervisor delegate the task at hand? Picking a worker irrespective of the employee’s training, skills and proven aptitudes is a mistake common to new supervisors and those who do not take the time to develop the workforce.
  5. Unwillingness to hand over a task and responsibility. Perhaps the supervisor is afraid that the worker will upstage her. Then again, the supervisor may have a very poor opinion of the worker – and overconfidence in her own abilities – to see the need and benefit of delegating work. In this case, the supervisor fails as a leader in the business model. The National Federation of Small Business also ties this aspect to “workaholism.”

Obstacles to Task Flow: Workers

  1. Unwillingness to accept the task. The worker may not share the supervisor’s enthusiasm about the task at hand. Conversely, the worker may already have too many other tasks to complete, and therefore she does not believe to have the time or resources to take on another responsibility.
  2. Inability to complete the work. An employee takes on a task for which the worker lacks the expertise, background or training. This is frequently the case when the worker hopes to impress a supervisor in an attempt to earn a promotion. The result is a job half-done or left to linger.
  3. Unsure of peer to peer delegation. The workforce thrives on peer to peer delegation. Workers of equal rank assist one another to complete tasks delegated to them by supervisors. In a small measure, a worker can be afraid to allow a peer to assist with the completion of a task.

Doing It Right

With so many pitfalls awaiting the person delegating a task, it is not surprising that a lot of supervisors take a hands-off approach and loathe the thought of actually passing on a job to someone else. Yet when delegation is handled properly, there is no need to fear the practice.

Delegation begins with a well-defined task that a person in authority hands over to a well-qualified worker. A log entry tracks all delegated tasks. The delegator monitors the delegate’s progress and offers input when appropriate. Nevertheless, knowing that in addition to handing off the task there is also the need to pass on the responsibility for its completion, the supervisor will not micromanage.

It is clear that barriers to effective delegation not only decrease company productivity and the individual worker’s job satisfaction, but in some cases they may even jeopardize the business’ overall functionality. Overcome the obstacles that hinder proper work flow processes in your company today; increase the participation of the work force in the day-to-day operations, and you will likely see the business flourish.