By James D’AmbrosioJamesProfile1Twitter

When it comes to delegating work to a colleague or subordinate, a football analogy is instructive. Suppose you’re head coach of a pro football team (11 players on the field). You can’t play the positions for them, but you can maximize performance by putting them in the best possible position to make impact plays that help the team win. You must make calculated, measured decisions based on your knowledge of each player and the opponent.

In the workplace, you have choices. If you’re in management, it’s tempting to do some of the work of a subordinate when you know you can do it better. While this can work, it’s not sustainable long-term — you won’t have time for your own work, and risk burnout and/or exhaustion.

What’s needed is a reasonable balance. Below are some ways to delegate in certain situations and have more time for your own work.


1) NEW TASK FOR JUNIOR EMPLOYEE: Try a three-step approach: 1) perform the task while the employee observes; 2)do the task together; 3) have the person perform the task independently until they’re proficient.

2) PROJECT FOR EXPERIENCED STAFFER: Meet and determine what’s needed — time, personnel, budget. Provide resources and step back. Let the person decide how to approach and complete the work. Resist micromanaging; instead, set checkpoints along the way to gauge progress and/or make adjustments. As long as work is of good quality, completed on time and on budget, the process is not important.

3) NEW SKILLS FOR A GROUP: When 15 or 20 people need to learn a new technical skill, consider outside trainers to provide on-site instruction. Manage to ensure quality —  effective learning, good resource materials, and access to support. Select days and times best suited to your agency’s workflow.

4) TRAINING A NEW HIRE: Ask a colleague with requisite knowledge of the position to mentor the new person  until they’re settled in. Meet in advance and determine objectives. Afterwards, confer with the new employee and ensure they’re comfortable. 

The importance of delegating cannot be understated. It helps staff grow professionally by expanding their skills and learning to work independently. This can’t happen if you always step in. Nonprofit managers already have a full plate. Try not to add to it.


What is your perspective on this issue? Other helpful ideas?

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