6 mins

When you assign the right tasks to the right people, you can make delegation work for everyone.

Last month I had the pleasure of speaking at the LeadDev StaffPlus Live conference about the right and wrong ways to delegate to teammates as a senior individual contributor (you can check out the talk here). In that session, I discussed the right times to delegate and the pitfalls of not delegating properly. In this article – which is part two of the conversation – I’m going to cover how to determine who should get which tasks, and how to support those folks to make delegation a positive experience for everyone.

Of course, the easiest way to assign work would be to simply ask your teammates for help with given projects and see who steps up, but oftentimes there are no volunteers and you will have to select someone to delegate tasks and projects to.

An important part of being a good leader is getting to know your team. Getting to know the people you work with makes for a happier workday and better morale overall, but it also allows you to get to know what their personal and career goals are. Armed with that information, you can make better decisions about what to delegate to whom.

While one size definitely doesn’t fit all, I have found that people’s goals loosely fall into the following buckets:

  • I want to learn new technologies
  • I want to meet people outside of my immediate team
  • I want to work on projects with larger impact (this could be measured by customer base or revenue)
  • I want to improve our processes
  • I want to learn more about how our business works and what our business drivers are
  • I want face time with senior leaders

Armed with this knowledge of your teammates, it is much easier not only to delegate work items, but also to make them more attractive to the person that is being asked to work on them. Now you can sell what might not seem like an enticing project as a perfect fit!

For example, working on data mining to put together a presentation might not sound exciting on the surface, but if the delegatee also gets to present their work to senior leaders it could turn a project that sounds boring into a great opportunity.

If a teammate is vocal about their frustrations with current systems or processes, they might jump at the chance to be involved in an initiative to streamline or rethink said processes.

Someone who wants to meet people outside of the immediate team might love the opportunity to attend large program status meetings and report back to you.

Once you’ve identified the perfect candidate for your task, it’s crucial to support them. Support comes in all different forms. If the project involves learning a new technology, there should be a plan put in place for how they will get the necessary training. For someone looking to do a presentation for a large audience for the first time it’s important to offer them opportunities to practice their presentation one-to-one so that they can incorporate feedback, and feel less nervous on the big day.

It can be hard to walk the line of how much to assist and when to give your delegatee room to grow and learn on their own.  You certainly want them to feel like the project is their own while making sure that they aren’t feeling frustrated or neglected. Creating a project plan is a great way to start to help them feel supported. This allows for open conversation around the different skills needed to complete the project and a window to ask how confident they feel for each component given the timelines.

Finally, it’s so important to celebrate the successes of teammates that are working on new endeavors for the first time. It’s hard to step outside of your comfort zone and learn something new or do something new. But for many people, getting recognition for that hard and uncomfortable work makes it all worth it. It makes them more likely to try something new again.  And it builds trust that the next time you delegate to them, they will be supported and celebrated for their efforts.

Delegation isn’t easy, but it’s an essential skill for busy engineering leaders to build. By getting to know your team, assigning tasks on the basis of people’s individual goals, and giving those folks the right support and encouragement, you can make delegation work for everyone.

Tools for effective delegation in engineering management
Tools for effective delegation in engineering management
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