When delegation goes wrong

Arguably, delegation is an absolute must-do for any manager. Not only does it develop and build your team, growing their skills and capacity, it’s also an effective way of getting done what needs doing. Besides, as the manager, delegation done well keeps your to-do list down, your hours reasonable, and frees you up to spend time on the stuff that only you can do.

Delegation – a quick definition

Just to keep us on the same page, delegation is handing over a task or responsibility to someone else, giving them the authority to carry it out on your behalf. As part of the process, you agree the objectives and limits of the task, and then give them the right combination of freedom and support necessary to succeed.

Delegation – why do it?

Because it carries clear benefits to the organisation, the person being delegated to, and you, the delegating manager. Just for once, let’s be selfish and focus on what’s in it for the manager…

  1. More time to… be more strategic, plan better, anticipate problems, focus on the team, eat an unhurried lunch, and maybe get home on time once in a while.
  2. A better team because over time, they develop new skills, can cover for your (and each other’s) absences, and better understand where the organisation is heading and why.
  3. Less stress thanks to being more in control of  your day – to mix metaphors, once you’ve got everyone else spinning the essential plates, you can step off the treadmill for a moment.
  4. A good reputation as a manager because you share the good stuff, the interesting and development work and… you trust your team to do it.

Delegation gone wrong

As with so many things in life, just because delegation is good doesn’t mean it’s easy. The following scenarios commonly arise and almost always there is something the manager can do (or could have done) to improve the situation.

The agreed outcomes are not delivered or achieved.


Did you agree clear outcomes with SMART objectives?

Did the delegated-to individual have the right skills and knowledge to succeed?

What extra support did they need?

They didn’t do the way you would do it.


First off, why is that a problem?

If they’ve achieved the agree outcomes without unnecessary ‘side effects’ then so what?

In fact, this is potentially a double win. Not only did the job get done, you now know of at least two ways that can happen.

They just kept asking questions and needing explanations. In which case, there’s a good chance more discussion was needed up front.

What was it they weren’t clear about?

Did they lack the necessary skills or knowledge?

Maybe you picked the wrong person to delegate to, or maybe they just needed more support to succeed on this particular task?

The delegated-to person didn’t take the initiative or make the necessary decisions. The big question is why? What stopped them?

Again, perhaps you chose wrong, or perhaps they were lacking

  • Clarity
  • Confidence
  • Information
  • Trust

And any one of those could be boosted/supported by the manager.

So, to avoid ‘delegation gone wrong’, remember a few tips:

  • Follow up when you say you will.
  • Be specific (and measurable!) In terms of outcomes.
  • Communicate the task’s importance in business/organisational terms.
  • Check that they have the time to do the delegated job.
  • Don’t skimp on the time needed to explain and discuss the task clearly.
  • Don’t interrupt them constantly with other, less urgent stuff (just saying, it happens).
  • Review the lessons learnt, post-delegation.
  • Give them feedback and credit for their success.

Remember the old saying, If you want something doing right, do it yourself? It’s not necessarily true and it’s definitely not a practical management philosophy.

If you want to explore delegation further, along with the full set of essential management skills, check out our range of management development and skills workshops. Or give us a call on 01582 463460. We’re here to help.

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