Last week I attended a company workshop which had one hour dedicated to time management and effective delegation. There are many directions to delegate: Up, Down, and Sideways. Delegate UP when you need more support. Delegate sideways when others provide a service that is dependable and more efficient than doing it on your own. Or when people in your team have availability and can help you to complete the job quicker. Delegate down when you have direct reports and you can set their priorities and focus.
There are many risks with delegation. There is an overhead to delegation. The efficiency provided by delegation needs to be greater than this overhead. Otherwise there is a near term increase in the total effort required. (There is the potential that by delegating now with an eye to delegating in the future that this overhead will be reduced.) There is also a risk about commitment. Unless the person that you are delegating too is a direct report, it may be difficult to hold them to their commitments. There is also a risk that they will be given work from their reporting chain that preempts the work that you had delegated to them. Also there is an implicit assumption that they will be able to delegate back to you. Will you be able to reciprocate?
What is included in the overhead with the delegation? And how can this overhead be reduced? In any situation, there is information required to perform a task. This information may be “tribal knowledge” and is assumed as known to all that work on a project and is not documented in a way to bring others up to speed. There are situations where the knowledge is documented, but it would require a significant amount of time to review the requisite documentation to be able to perform the task. This overhead can be reduced by ensuring that knowledge is capture in consistent way in the organization that optimizes the location of the critical pieces needed to perform a given task. Also, finding task units and activities that are common through out the organization can help to reduce the overhead of delegating a task.
How is efficiency achieved to offset the overhead of the delegation? In the situation where everyone is similarly skilled, it only makes sense to delegate tasks based upon the availability of the people involved where the overhead is extremely low. However, in most cases, the group will be made up of people with different skills, experiences, and inclinations. It is quite possible that a given task could be performed more than twice as fast by someone else because they have a more efficient way of approaching the problem. In this case, the ability to delegate can reduce the over all work in a group. But it is necessary to have some mechanism to identify who is better skilled in a particular area and who has a desire to do a particular type of task.
Delegation can allow a group to get more done only if approached correctly. Otherwise it might increase the risk and the effort required to perform the same amount of work.