Time is one of our most valuable commodities as professionals. There never seems to be enough of it and we seem to be continually running out of it. I’ve written in the past about time management techniques to help you save time and today I’m going to dive into one particular technique that us as managers (project and functional) need to continue to practice and get better at – delegation.
Last week I read a very interesting article (and I’m a little embarrassed that it’s older than I am and I’m just now reading it) about time management called “Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey” by William Oncken, Jr. and Donald L. Wass. When you have a few moments it’s a very worthwhile read and talks at length about the concept of transferring ownership of problems (beautifully referred to as “monkeys”) and how managers need to ensure that everyone is owning the “monkeys” they should. That article gave me some inspiration for this week’s post.
As a manager you are often looked upon as the one who can solve problems. Your team, the customer, your boss all look to you to help solve problems of varying degrees. What a good manager should always ask themselves before taking on a problem should be “is this my problem to solve?” It sounds harsh I know and somewhat counterintuitive to the whole “team” concept however there are those (team members, peers and bosses alike) who get comfortable giving someone else their problems to fix. Whether a manager has the knowledge, experience or qualifications to solve a team member’s problem should be secondary if not irrelevant to the decision to take on someone else’s problem and solve it.
I love to help (who doesn’t) and who doesn’t love that feeling of being the hero and solving the problem. The problem with that line of thinking is that if we keep saying “yes” to everyone and everything, pretty soon we aren’t left with any time to do our own work. So how can good delegation help?
Come With Problems and Solutions
Your team members are the experts in their respective fields. When you have your technical lead coming to you with a database design problem, the first thing that a good manager should ask is “what’s your idea on how to fix this?” If not, the manager is susceptible to taking on the problem themselves (or at least sharing in the accountability for it). Your team should be pushed (in a good way) to come up with solutions for their own problems. Your job as the leader should be to remove the roadblocks for them to put that solution in place. The second we start taking on ownership of your team members’ individual problems, we’ve failed at delegation.
Push Outside the Boundaries
A lot of managers will hesitate to assign any tasks to team members that they feel would be outside their own “comfort zone”. This is a very dangerous path to go down – not only are you sheltering your team members’ growth, but you’re also setting a precedent that they will never have to take on anything that they are not comfortable doing. Part of your job as a leader is to encourage growth. Let your team members take on new opportunities, give them guidance but let them step in and take a swing and be there to catch them if they fall. Maybe one of your technical leads are not comfortable giving presentations. If you see an opportunity for them to prepare and deliver a presentation to a small group, that is a wonderful opportunity for growth. It’s a sheltered, safe yet new environment to try something new and flex some muscles they never knew they had before. Not to mention it saves you from having to do it.
We always need to be there to support our teams - that goes without saying. But some lines need to be drawn when it comes to solving problems and who ultimately should be owning the resolution of issues as opposed to clearing the roadblocks for the solution to be implemented. By ensuring we delegate properly and not take on problems that are not rightfully our own, we’re ensuring that everyone on our team (including ourselves) are pulling our weight properly.
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