I don’t deny, it’s frustrating.  You delegate a piece of work to one of your team and they manage to transform it into an almighty mess.   It takes so long to fix it, you might as well have done it yourself.

How do you delegate when you think your team will mess it up?

Is it your fault?

Look someone had to say it! Look very carefully at your own contribution to this situation before we pile all the blame on them. It’s time for some reflection!

  • Did you assume they had some knowledge that they might not have had?
  • Did you ask questions about what they knew already?
  • Did you clearly explain the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’?
  • Did you clarify that they understood?
  • Did you pick up on their hesitations? (Hesitations or nervousness over a particular task could identify a coaching opportunity)
  • Did you ask what support they will need from you?

Check in often

  • The level and frequency of the ‘check in’ will depend on the task and the experience of your team member.
  • Don’t take your foot of the gas if things seem to be going well. Be consistent until the task is delivered.
  • You may need to look beyond the words being said. People will often tell you that things are ‘fine’. Spend a little more time drilling down into the actual progress.
  • Watch out for the heros. These are the ones that want to fix a problem before they tell you about it. You want them to fix it, but depending on the task, you may want a heads up on this. Be clear up front about what you want to know.
  • Make sure they know it’s a two way thing. They shouldn’t have to wait for a scheduled check in if they need urgent support in between.

Coach them

Your team member’s success on tasks you delegate will increase the more you coach them rather than giving them solutions every time.

Here are some questions that are good to have in your ‘coaching toolkit’ to stop you jumping in with the answers.
‘What’s on your mind?’
‘What else?’
‘What’s the real challenge for you here?’
‘What do you need from me’, ‘How can I help’
‘If you do x what impact will it have on y and z?’


Watch out for the ‘BUT eraser’. If you say something positive and then follow it up with a ‘but’ you automatically negate the compliment.

For example, look how differently these two comments come across although they mean exactly the same

‘Your presentation was great but it would have been better if you slowed down a bit.’

‘Your presentation was great and it will be even better next time if you slow down a little’

However, you can also use the ‘but eraser’ in a positive way. Look at this example

Your team member: ‘I don’t have the experience to do this’

You: ‘but you said that before you ran the xyz project and look how well that went’

With this ‘but’ you are negating (erasing) his first negative comment with a positive one

Be cautious of the word ‘Why’. Again simple use of language can make a huge difference. Compare these two statements

‘Why did you do that?’

‘Talk me through how you decided to take this approach?’

Using WHY can make the other person defensive and you are unlikely to get a full and open answer to the question.

Start small

It seems obvious to say but when delegating, start with a small task when you don’t know the team member so well or if this is something very new.

Develop solution seekers

Things will go wrong.  It happens.  But when it does, you need a team member that will flag it quickly and talk you through suggested solutions to fix it.   You don’t need someone that dumps the problem at your door and runs for the hills.

Make it clear when you delegate a task, that the recipient owns it.  Communicate when you want to hear of any issues and that you expect to hear their ideas to resolve them.

This is how they will learn.  And this is how your confidence will grow about their ability to deliver.  They may take a bumpier road to get there, but with your support, it will become a more comfortable ride next time around.