"Make It So" and Other Styles of Delegation:
How to master the art of delegation

In this program we explore the art of delegation. We look at what it takes to create an environment in which the person or team that actually does the work experiences a sense of contribution and pride from the moment they accept the delegated task until the moment it's completed, and beyond.

In some roles, including managers and project managers at all levels, delegation of authority and responsibility is the essence of the job. Mastering the art of delegation is the foundation of success, because managers and project managers cannot actually do all — or in many cases any — of the work of the teams they support. But delegation is far more than telling someone, "Make it so," or "You'll be doing this and they'll be doing that."

'Make It So' and Other Styles of Delegation: How to master the art of delegation

The stones in an arch each play a role in keeping the arch intact. In effect, the arch delegates a specific role to each of the stones that comprise it. The arch cannot fulfill its role unless each stone does its part.

Delegating is the investing of responsibility and authority from the delegator to the delegatee. In the everyday sense of the word, to delegate is to empower the delegatee to act on behalf of the delegator. That is, in the everyday sense, empowerment is transferred from the delgator to the delegatee. But in the modern workplace, that is not at all what happens when authority and responsibility are delegated.

In the modern workplace, typically, the delegator has the authority and responsibility to act as a delegator, and to supervise the delegatee with respect to the work being delegated. Because the delegator was never expected to actually carry out the task personally, that responsibility is not really transferred from delegator to delegatee. Indeed, in many cases, the delegator is not even capable of executing the task that has been "delegated."

What actually happens in the modern workplace is more closely akin to forming a contract. In effect, the delegator and delgatee enter into an agreement about what will be done, with what resources, and by when. And one of the resources, typically, is the delgator, who supplies advice, supervision, and, from time to time, whatever else might be required by the delegatee as the work progresses. We do call this arrangement "delegation," but in effect it's more like an agreement, or even a collaboration.

A sound delegation agreement between delegator and delegatee is mutual. There are constraints on both parties. Trouble arrives when the delegator regards the arrangement as an actual delegation — when the delegator believes that he or she can terminate the agreement, or change its terms, at will. Sound delegation agreements can change from time to time, but unless the changes are mutually agreed to, trouble is likely.

In this program, we offer ten guidelines as a foundation of sound delegation agreements. They are:

  • You can't delegate your own accountability
  • Be prepared to rescind
  • Your subordinate has final say
  • Keep your promises
  • The greater the risk, the more important is delegation
  • Delegate fully
  • Delegate authority, not just work
  • Never infringe delegated authority
  • Have an inform-as-soon-as-you-know norm
  • Establish checkpoint expectations

We explore each guideline, providing examples of the consequences of deviating from them, and examples of situations in which deviations might be called for.

Knowing how to structure effective delegation is necessary, but it might not be sufficient. Some people fear delegating authority. They fear losing control of the work they delegate, or the ability to specify minimal levels of quality. Or they fear that the delegatee might not be able (or willing) to produce the desired outcome. Or they fear being outshone by a superbly capable delegatee. In this program we examine these fears, where they come from, and how to address them.

This insight-filled program deals with issues such as:

  • As a delegator, how can I intervene when I believe that the delegatee is not adhering to our agreement?
  • As a delegatee, what can I do when the delgator intervenes with my work in violation of our agreement? (this is commonly called micromanagement)
  • As a delegator, how can I ensure that the work is progressing as agreed without appearing to be a micromanager?
  • What special provisions are recommended when the delegatee is remote? (when delegator and delegatee are at different sites)
  • As a delgator, if the delegatee doesn't report to me, and is being directed by his or her supervisor to violate our delegation agreement, what can I do?
  • What should be done when the delegatee is found to have misrepresented the true state of the work in status reports?
  • When authority or responsibility is delegated, to what risks is the delegator exposed? How about the delegatee?
  • What is reverse delegation?

Learning objectives

This program helps leaders and the people they lead in forming more effective delegation agreements. Learning objectives include:

  • How delegating to millennials is different
  • Why status reports are unreliable
  • What an inform-as-soon-as-you-know norm is
  • The importance of agreeing to checkpoints in advance
  • How to avoid infringing delegated authority
  • Dealing with delegation fear
  • Managing the four sources of delegation risk

Participants learn to appreciate the complexity of the delegation relationship.

Program structure and content

We learn through presentation, discussion, exercises, simulations, and post-program activities. We can tailor a program for you that addresses your specific challenges, or we can deliver a tried-and-true format that has worked well for other clients. Participants usually favor a mix of presentation, discussion, and focused exercises.

Whether you're a veteran of workplace delegation, or a relative newcomer, this program is a real eye-opener.

Learning model

When we learn most new skills, we intend to apply them in situations with low emotional content. But knowledge about how people work together is most needed in highly charged situations. That's why — time permitting — we use a learning model that goes beyond presentation and discussion — it includes in the mix simulation, role-play, metaphorical problems, and group processing. This gives participants the resources they need to make new, more constructive choices even in tense situations. And it's a lot more fun for everybody.

Target audience

Managers and project managers at all levels, including managers of global operations, sponsors of global projects, business analysts, team leads, project managers and team members.

Program duration

Available formats range from 50 minutes to one full day. The longer formats allow for more coverage or more material, more experiential content and deeper understanding of issues specific to audience experience.

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