Delegating to your team is very much a leadership 101 type of skill.  For some it comes naturally, others must work at it. Can’t or won’t delegate? Then your business will be just you. Delegating, without micromanaging, frees up your time to do higher value work. Furthermore, when you delegate well it promotes trust between you and your team.  

At first glance delegating to a virtual team seems more difficult than in person, since we’re used to thinking of delegating to people who sit near you, but done well, the only difference is that you’re sitting further apart.

With Covid-19 comes the real possibility that some or all of your team will go sick in 2020; this means delegation has never been a more in-demand skill both for you and also your team.

At first glance delegating to a virtual team seems more difficult than in person, since we’re used to thinking of delegating to people who sit near you, but done well, the only difference is that you’re sitting further apart.

With Covid-19 comes the real possibility that some or all of your team will go sick in 2020; this means delegation has never been a more in-demand skill both for you and also your team.

One: Analyse Your Workload

Take a good hard look at what you do every day.  Are you spending much of your time completing admin tasks that one of your team could take on? Do you really have to be the person that chases invoices? Do you need to answer every phone call? Should you be ordering supplies? If the answer is “No”, then you need to start to delegate those tasks.

Start by going back to basics and defining your core business.  Identify which of your skills bring the most money in. Those are the areas you should be focusing your time on. Allocate any tasks that need your skills to yourself, then delegate anything that is stealing time from your core work.

Two: Think About Your Process

We all recognize that feeling that it would be faster to do something yourself than take the time to explain it to someone else.  Of course, that is true the first time, the second time and maybe even the third time. However, eventually spending the time to train someone else to complete certain tasks will free up your time for the long-term. One of the things that puts leaders off delegating is that they think it will take too long to explain a task to someone else. Try to resist that thought. Train that team member to do the task, and empower them with the knowledge they need to succeed. You could be busy with better things next week, if you do it now.

When you delegate, think about what that person needs to succeed. After you’ve analyzed your workload and identified the tasks that can be delegated, think through the steps you take to complete each task.   For complicated tasks think about the process, make a list of steps, note any documents and tools you need to access at each stage. It’s easy to forget something small, like giving someone a password, but successful delegation means removing any barriers to prevent your being interrupted with more questions. When you are delegating to someone who is not co-located with you, it is important that you have spent more time thinking through exactly the task you want doing AND the outcome you require.

Three: Decide Who to Delegate to

Consider your team; you probably know their current skill set and how confident they are in their abilities, so allocate tasks accordingly.  If you don’t feel confident about that, you could have a team meeting, where you describe what needs to be done and ask, “Have any of you done this before?”. Doing a skills audit like this can turn up some pleasant surprises. Once you’ve established the skill sets, or willingness to learn new ones, you can begin to delegate those tasks that are zapping your time. And when you have someone who is highly skilled and very familiar with your business you can spend less time briefing them.

If you don’t have a team and you are the only employee of your business, you can still delegate tasks. For example, there is a huge workforce of virtual assistants, some of whom only want to work for a few hours per week. They can chase your invoices or send bulk emails for you, freeing you up to do what you’re best at. All the following tips apply to briefing someone you outsource to, not just employees.

Also consider apps and tools that can save you time, if you are not using cloud accounting making that switch can save you hours in cataloging receipts, tracking expenses, as well as creating, sending, and chasing invoices.

Four: Provide Clear Instructions

Put the task list in context for your team.  It is hard to be invested in completing tasks successfully, without the knowledge of why they are important. Start by explaining why a task is business critical. Right now, Covid-19 is the big challenge facing most businesses, so staff will understand why you need to delegate and focus on keeping the business going. In the long-term we should think “what’s in it for them?” and explain that when delegating.

It’s extremely easy to forget what you didn’t know when you learnt a new skill. In the absence of manuals, find online tutorials that you can send. If you know how to make videos recording your own screen while you complete a task yourself, those are particularly useful so your staff can watch them back later. There are lots of free tools our there which will help you do this, e.g. if you have a Mac, Quick Time will record a screen share, or there are free tools such as Loom or Vidyard. If that is not possible or relevant, then written bullet points or numbered step-by-step instructions are something that staff can refer back to, hopefully minimizing the number of questions that you need to answer.

When you hand over your instructions, make sure you outline your expectations, if possible, provide examples of your own versions of the task. Would you like a document to be written in a certain format? Is there a deadline? Identify other staff members they can ask if they aren’t sure of something. Remember that when you are delegating to someone who is working virtually you need to provide more instructions than if they were sitting next to you.

Be patient and don’t give up.  You might have to answer several questions in the beginning, if you haven’t foreseen all the things that they need to know, but the number of questions will go down as your team adjusts.

Five: Check Progress, Without Micromanaging

When you first delegate a task,  check on progress more frequently. A quick daily catch-up call is an opportunity to clear up misunderstandings about the task and responsibilities. Firstly it saves time to make corrections early on. Secondly, it helps you to identify where your instructions should be clearer, just in case you need to train someone else up later. A lot of time can be wasted if someone goes off on the wrong direction early into a task.

It’s important to choose the right communication tool for your team, to make this process as easy as possible. Ideally you would use videoconferencing, because if you can see your colleagues’ faces, you can pick up on things like how confident they are about the task much more easily than you would by phone. It isn’t impossible by phone, but you might want to ask for staff to share documents in advance so you can look at them during a call.  In Zoom you can share screens so you can discuss them live.

Then gradually work to scale back your monitoring. Micromanaging is a waste of a leader’s time.  Furthermore, showing a lack of trust in staff, removes the incentive for anyone to try harder. Why do a job perfectly if your work’s going to be undone by somebody else?

Six: Review and Feedback

Fine tune the process as time goes by.  Review and provide feedback until you’re happy. Your staff may even find quicker ways of achieving the same outcomes, since they’re coming to the task with a fresh pair of eyes. You should be able to reduce the frequency of reviews, but feedback is still useful to show that the work is appreciated.

Of course, you may feel that something you delegated wasn’t successful, you could take a step back and review the steps you took and try to identify why things went wrong.  Did you pass on all the information that was needed? Were you chased for missing information and access to tools? Did you allow enough time for staff to learn a new skill? Does that member of staff need further training? Or could the task simply be better suited to someone else?

As you get used to delegating, you’ll learn a lot about your own working style and how to adapt it to get better results each time.

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