What tasks can't be delegated? What are the principles of effective delegation?

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ophelious eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Delegation of authority or responsibility" is the practice of assigning tasks to other people, usually used in the sense that a "boss" will tell his "underlings" to accomplish something that needs to get done.  That's not always the case, though...in a collective group, responsibility can be "delegated" to each member of the group in a generally equal fashion.

Some tasks lend themselves well to delegation, others not so much.  This often has more to do with the person you are delegating the authority to...the person chosen for a task should generally be capable of handling it well.  You would not, for example, delegate the authority for major project decisions to someone who had no knowledge of the project.

So the first step, if you want to spread the work around on a task, is to be sure that you are choosing people who have a reasonable chance of actually accomplishing the goal set for them.  You must also be sure that the person you are assigning the task to has adequate time and support services to accomplish the task in a timely fashion.

Second, for effective task delegation, there should be some oversight (but not micromanagement.)  The "manager" should, occasionally, check on the progress of the team members working toward the goal.  This should be done infrequently, though, or else the amount of energy expended in "checking up on people" negates the energy saved by delegating the tasks in the first place.  You must, as manager (or team leader or whatever) be available to employees to answer questions or troubleshoot problems.

Some tasks don't lend themselves well to delegation.  These are usually core tasks of management such as hiring, firing, employee reviews, and major decisions.  One must not confuse proper delegation to increase productivity with improper delegation which comes from being incompetent or lazy.  In short, a manager should not delegate authority to make major decisions or to accomplish tasks that would either have a major impact on the business or negate the bosses authority in the eyes of the workers.

Delegating authority usually has the following advantages:

1. Eases time crunches because more people are working on different aspects of a task, making it come to fruition faster,

2. The group brings with it different pieces of knowledge that one person trying to do the job might not have,

3. Delegating (when done properly) can build teamwork skills and improve the interpersonal relationships of your employees,

4. When a manager proves that he/she trusts the employees by assigning them responsibilities, the morale of the employees is improved.  The opposite is that the employees learn that the "boss" does not trust them and/or thinks they are incapable.

The drawbacks:

1. It has to be done right...if done improperly, disaster can occur.

2. The "leader" must maintain decision making authority.  Even though the tasks are spread out, someone must be ultimately responsible.  Sometimes, when tasks are delegated, team members may not feel "ownership" of the larger project and won't have as much interest in its success.

3. Standards and expectations have to be understood by everyone.

4. Proper delegation assumes that the leader has a talented "crew" to work with.  A poorly trained or educated group will do worse than one highly educated/motivated person doing the same job.